Tuesday, March 17, 2009

In Hopes of Spring Day 6: Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Irish Hunger Memorial in NYC; a slice of real Ireland on St. Patrick's Day
Photo credit here.

Happy St. Patrick's Day - I am required to say it at least once, if only because of my unabashed love for corned beef and cabbage, even though, now living in England, I won't be eating it because of its general (and rather shocking, frankly) unavailability in this country. To me the green-ness and excitement surrounding this holiday are always synonymous with Spring finally breaking out.

Sadly, it has slowly but surely become pretty clear that besides the odd mini-parade / drink special at pubs around town, London doesn't really embrace St. Patrick's Day. Being a self-proclaimed
Irish-lover for several reasons, that kind of displeases me.

Not only is my name (kind of) Irish
(warning - I may have just directed you to one of the most laughable blog entries in the world), but I did marry a half-Irish (kind of) man, I went to Notre Dame (no, not just a really old Cathedral in Paris) a.k.a. home of the "Fighting Irish," and, when in a non-pregnant state I am a great consumer of Bailey's Irish Cream (not a fan of Guiness, sorry). In what is another of my prouder possessions, I also incidentally happen to own a small stuffed toy Leprechaun with an orange beard that Matt bought me in Ireland on a business trip last year; he is named Harry McCracken (pun intended BUT it is a real Irish name, I kid you not), and is usually attached to my vanity or on the Christmas tree, depending on the time of year.

Matt and I are doing our best this year to stay in the St. Pattie's spirit despite no longer being
at the epicenter of the Irish-American/ beer fueled mayhem (read: the Northeastern United States). He forgot to wear green today (I, of course, have not!), but in place of that tradition, I encouraged him to take Harry McCracken with him to work, which he, unbelievably enough, did. Harry M. will make his shocking debut at the office and, I am sure, cause much laughter and stir among the German, British, Egyptian, Lithuanian, Bahraini mix of coworkers.

But despite our best attempts, there are still a couple of things about the US I lament / am nostalgic for that I feel I should share in honor of St. Patrick's Day.

* * *

Why I'd Rather Be in the US for St. Patrick's Day
or, why the English just don't know how to kick it "proper" on this Irish day of libation/celebration

4. Thanks a lot for nothing, Tesco: Finding real Corned Beef
It has taken me two years to get used to the idea that I actually cannot buy fresh (contradiction?), well, NOT CANNED, corned beef in London. Where the hell is the brisket in this country?! Maybe I haven't searched far and wide enough, but it seems to me that none of the major supermarket chains sell anything but this:

And on St. Patrick's day, that stuff is just not gonna feed the bulldog, my friends.

3. The Irish Hunger Memorial in NYC - really capturing the Irish spirit.
I suppose that yes, it is a sad thing to remember - the Irish Potato Famine of 1846-1850 - but if someone had to do it, they sure chose the nicest way possible with this garden/ monument in New York City.

a veritable island of heat
her and heath, right in the city
photo credits here and here.

over the course of my nearly 3 years living in New York, I visited this place close to 15 times. I found it not only particularly apt for memorializing the tragedy that was the famine, but it really just captured the Irish spirit as well. The tasteful arrangement of ruins and native Irish flora make you forget that you're in the middle of a giant city for a minute. And as you look out onto the Hudson River, you can steal a moment of peace in what can otherwise be an overwhelming place - especially on St. Patrick's Day.

2. Once you've been in Boston for St. Pattie's, everything else always pales.
What can I say? Sometimes you wanna go where everybody knows your name. Sadly, fate will not have it: I won't be drinking green beer at the good old tourist trap we all know and love, The Bull and Finch (or the real but now highly bastardized Cheers) in Boston, though I have done it before.

But frivolous gesting aside, Boston is really full of a palpable spirit on St. Patrick's Day - one that compares to no other place on earth during that celebration, I would argue. And this has been agreed to by many an actual Irish man or woman in my presence - which makes it highly valid as biased assertions go.

1. Flannery & Finnegan's Wake

I did admittedly say Boston was the end-all-be-all of St. Pat's celebrations, but actually, for me (and I would bet for Matt too) there is one place on this round earth that could beat it out: Finnegan's Wake pub on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.

This neighborhood joint is the very definition of a "local." It is basic but traditional in its Irish pub decor. The employees tend to be Irish themselves (oddly enough), and the bar does not boast the trendier group of bankers and twenty-somethings drinking cocktails you'd find at most downtown locations. In fact, the "regulars" are generally middle-aged men drinking after work, and/or their wives and friends. On the whole, Matt and I made it a habit to go there at least once a week for dinner because it is a) extremely cheap, b) has decent food and c) was right around the corner from our apartment.

Two more perks regarding Finnegan's: the food and the head waitress.

The food, as I have
said, is decent. More to the point: it is actual Irish food - none of this high-falutin' modern fusion-y versions thereof. Every day you can get a good Shepherd's Pie, Steak & Kidney Pie, Bangers and Mash - no questions asked. Their specials are also pretty good and right around St. Patrick's Day you'll see their REALLY DELICIOUS corned beef and cabbage on the menu. It sells out every time so you have to get there early.

The head waitress is an Irish lady whose real name, even after patronizing for two years straight, we never learned. Matt and I nicknamed her Flannery
, which seemed to fit and stuck. She's Irish and she's mean. She takes your order with a bark and a bite and only seems to warm up to "nice-Irish-looking boys" which explains why she all but melted when my brother-in-law Marcus came to visit. A couple of months after leaving NYC Matt and I made a pilgrimage back and she was still there - I think she might have come with the building. Anyway, that's the stuff that real Irish flair is made of.

* * *

Finnegan's Wake Irish Pub
1361 First Avenue (b/w 72nd & 73rd)
New York, NY 10021

Please don't be surprised if you walk in and are treated like crap; this is no high-end gastropub. It's a neighborhood joint with uncompromising reliability - the bad Irish tempers are part of the charm. :)

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  1. I feel your pain! I can only find brisket here in Canada for a few days around this time and it comes already pickled in slime.

  2. I'm about as far from Irish as anyone can be but Mr. Noodle can claim some on his mother's side. That's enough for us to celebrate St. Patrick's day and license to make beer-braised corned beef and cabbage.

    As usual, loved your list - in fact, I hope you don't mind that I borrowed your signature style: I made a list of my own for my St. Pat's day post (with full credit to you, natch!) Thanks for the inspiration!

  3. Last year I got really brave and made homemade corn beef - I never did that before and it was FANTASTIC - I was never about the fact that I had raw meet brining in my refridgerator for a week, but as no one croked I took it as a good sign. I had the best intentions of repeating that endeavor this year, but St. Paddy's day snuck up on me.

    Sorry to hear about the struggle to find real corn beef in London - that is such a surprise to me, and I guess one of those never ending quirks that an expat loves to discover - not!