Damien Given knows St. Patrick’s Day from almost every angle. He’s a native of Ireland (County Tyrone), he bartended for decades at Philly college pubs, and he even got a chance to spend the day bar-hopping himself a couple years back when his own place, SONA in Manayunk, was under construction.
“It was a 7 a.m. till 2 a.m. kind of day,” he said, recalling a start in Mayfair and a finish in Delco, with plenty of stops in between.
With all his varied experience, Given isn’t prone to preachy rants about The Right Way To Celebrate. But he does think some pervasive myths around the holiday deserve to be debunked:
The proper abbreviation is St. Paddy’s
Seeing people post about “St. Patty’s Day” rubs Given the wrong way. “Irish for Patrick is Padraig,” he explained. “For us, Patty is a female name.”
St. Patrick wasn’t Irish (but it doesn’t matter)
“Italian people say he’s Italian, English people say he’s English, everyone wants to claim him,” Given said, explaining historians believe the future saint was born into Roman British society, then kidnapped by slave traders and brought to Ireland, where he had visions and began spreading the Gospel. “It’s not really an issue,” Given added. “It doesn’t matter where he’s from.”
Four-leaf clovers aren’t the right symbol
“It’s a three-leaf clover, the shamrock,” Given said, representing the Holy Trinity. Decorations with the four-leaf clover (which stands for luck) don’t strike him as offensive, “but just shows people allow themselves to be led by the masses instead of gaining actual cultural knowledge.”
Irish Car Bombs are offensive
What is a problem, to Given and many who grew up in Ireland during the second half of the 20th century, is a drink named after a terrorist act. “Where I come from,” he said, “a car bomb in 1988 killed 29 people, including a pregnant woman and newborn twins. That’s a very touchy subject.”
Ireland drinks vodka more than whiskey
“The biggest selling alcohol in Ireland is Smirnoff vodka!” Gavin said, referencing a 2015 study that found the clear spirit came in third in popularity, after Heineken and Budweiser.
When it does come to whiskey, he said, expats in Philly tend to lean away from the stereotypical Tullamore DEW and Jameson — they’ll go for a shot of Powers instead.
Green beer is silly
“It’s not that it’s bad,” Given said, allowing for taste. “It’s just not something we would do.” Instead, he recommends a pint of Guinness, Harp or Smithwicks to get in the true Irish mood.
In Ireland, people drink, but don’t puke
Gavin has spent time behind the bar at Fado and Moriarty’s in Center City, Kelly’s on the Main Line and Kildare’s in Manayunk, so he’s familiar with the typical St. Paddy’s shenanigans.
“The Erin Express is the ‘drinking express,’” he said. “In Ireland, we do drink a lot on the day — we visit family graves, go to mass, and then go to the pub — but we just don’t vomit everywhere.”
Ireland’s national color is BLUE
St. Patrick’s official color isn’t green anyway — it’s a sky blue. In Ireland, Given said, you’ll very rarely find anyone in an orange sweater or green pants on St. Paddy’s Day; soccer jerseys with an added shamrock brooch is a more likely outfit. Not that those colors are totally out of place, since they’re on the Irish flag: “Green for Catholic, orange for Protestant and white for peace.”
March 18 is an Irish bartender’s favorite day
This is SONA’s first St. Patrick’s Day (it opened April of last year), and while Given isn’t going all out with kitsch, he’s definitely preparing the 400-seat tavern for a crowd.
Doors open at 9 a.m. with a boozy brunch special: a glass of Guinness, a shot of whiskey and an Irish breakfast for $20 total. The afternoon will be filled with the sounds of live music from an Irish trio “right off the boat,” and at 8 p.m. the DJ starts. Nearly the entire staff will be working across multiple dining rooms spread over two floors.
But what Given is most looking forward to is the day after the crush.
“People keep telling me, ‘I bet you can’t wait until Saturday,’” he said, “but really, it’s Sunday I can’t wait for, because that’ll mark the longest time until St. Patrick’s Day comes round again.”