St. Patrick's Day in Pittsburgh: My Experience, My Advice
Transportation: Waltzing Matilda
Most of my day was spent on foot. After looking around and seeing what a bloody mess the roads were, I was glad! I boarded the bus into the city in Robinson right outside Ikea with only about 45 minutes to go until the parade began, but the special bus line system had me getting out at Station Square with plenty of time to stroll across the bridge and make my way to Boulevard of the Allies, where I met my friend and found a good vantage point. My fiancee came later in the day (poor girl couldn't talk her employers into a day off!), and of course had to bring the car. But she parked it and it sat until we were ready to go home!
DO: Walk all you can. Wear very good walking shoes (Mine were not properly sized, and my feet were bleeding by day's end. Yeech!)
DO: Get your car into the Station Square parking garage. It cost us between $10- $15 to park all day, which may seem like a lot but it's still less than a Pittsburgh parking ticket! Having your car parked there will have many, many advantages, as described below.
DO: Carry a water bottle, or even a backpack with a few drinks in it. You will cover a lot of ground in one day, and need to stay hydrated.
Food and Drink
You can't go gallivanting all over the city with no food in your belly now, can you? Not only that, but it is almost certainly a sin to let St. Patrick's Day pass without having at least a beer or two. Now, in the course of my entire St. Patrick's Day I had but two beers, one at a little restaurant and bar for over $8 after waiting in line for almost an hour, and another on the deck of a boat later in the evening for almost the same amount. And being a man of rather modest means, that was just about all I could afford!
As far as food goes, to be honest I was not very hungry all day. I had made my traditional St. Patrick's Day breakfast early at home, consisting of eggs, sausage, toast, apples, and coffee with Irish creme. I was employed at an office at that time, and had received two free sandwiches at a specific Pittsburgh- based sandwich shop for some employee appreciation something or other. These I used at some point just to keep my belly full and keep moving.
If I go to Pittsburgh for St. Patrick's Day again, I will almost certainly approach food and drink differently. Learn from me, friends, and try this:
DO: Either bring some sort of container of drinks (including alcoholic ones and decoy cups) or arrange for a friend in the city to have some in their fridge. You can make their place your base of operations for the day, perhaps treating them to an extra case of beer or a good meal or something in return.
DO NOT: Try to get your food and drink at local businesses downtown on St. Patrick's Day. They will all be swamped, crowded, and quickly low on stock. This can quickly bring you down and give you less time to enjoy all the other fun waiting for you!
DO: Bring along snacks and sandwiches and consume them as you go. I recommend bringing along some sort of cooler for the perishables, and eating them as quickly as you can.
WARNING: There are certain areas set up throughout the city where you will find entertainment and festivity, but you are not allowed to bring outside food or drink in. Before entering these places, you need to lose your packs of provisions either at some specially- chosen base (such as your car or a friend's place) or even a rented bus station locker. But do not try to mess with the cops on this one; there are literally tubs of items confiscated and then thrown away by these badge- toting bouncers.
So my friend and I managed to meet up and grabbed a spot to watch the parade. There were people in front of us, but we were on elevated ground and we're both tall men so this did not really bother us.
The parade was incredible! First, they do not lie when they say this is one of the biggest St. Patrick's Day parades in the US! It was humongous, going on for hours. And bagpipes! Oh, the bagpipes! By the end of the parade, I wasn't sure any other instrument existed! You really see the gigantic Irish heritage of Pittsburgh in this parade, and it's an amazing sight to see.
About 30 minutes into the parade, however, everything came to a standstill. We were terribly confused. The barriers remained up, but not one person walked down the parade route for at least 20 minutes. After waiting that long, we suddenly saw a line of police with machine guns walking down the street. They were followed by a van of men also carrying automatic weaponry, and then a small crowd of people moving quickly along our side of the road. I ran up to see who it was, and a moment later found myself face to face with Vice President Joe Biden!
He was gone before my mind even registered, but that was certainly a surprise! Alas, I did not shake his hand since I was so far back. Shame, really. That's on my bucket list, to shake a world leader's hand.
DO: Get to the parade route nice and early. It begins at about 10 a.m., so I suggest picking your spot at about 9 a.m. If you want to see everything and get a chance to meet any special celebrity guests who may appear, you'll want a seat right up front.
DO: Bring some camp chairs to sit on at your front spot. This provides you with a clean, comfortable seat (Trust me, you don't want to sit on the sidewalk or the curb that day!), and it also serves as a physical marker for your spot.
DO: Keep some of your provisions by you throughout the parade. It's a very lengthy one, but if you move to go get a drink or food elsewhere you can rest assured your spot will be taken. One clever way I saw people drinking their booze last year was in lidded disposable coffee cups. The design helps keep the drink cool longer, and cops aren't about to go around opening every coffee cup in town looking for booze! This is also a prime opportunity to serve a few green Jello shots!
DON'T: Eat or drink anything just before the parade that will work its way through your system fast. Once the parade starts, you won't want to move and the crowds of people will make it difficult anyway!
DON'T: Pick your viewing spot right next to a pile of garbage or a row of outhouses. If you don't care for the smell for a few seconds, it won't be much better for over two hours!
DO:Take lots of pictures. You will see sights you don't want to forget. I guarantee it!
Holy Shamrock! It's the vice president!
The bandstand at Market Square, where free concerts are held all day.
After the parade, there are other forms of entertainment set up all over Pittsburgh for the holiday. The two I attended were those at Market Square and Station Square.
Market Square had a small stage set up for bands, not all of whom were Celtic or otherwise Celtic- inspired, much to my chagrin. Be that as it may, the music at Market Square is free and there is always something to be said for that. There are, as Pittsburgh residents know, plenty of bars and restaurants around Market Square, but as I mentioned above the beer and food selection became pretty poor pretty early, and I nearly got knocked out over a Guinness that I had to pay $8 for. Market Square also happens to be one of those zones which are specially closed off and police allow no outside food or drink inside. All purses and backpacks going in are subject to search, and any unauthorized materials are subject to confiscation.
DO: Go to Market Square to enjoy a few bands performing for free at their specially- assembled stage.
DO NOT: Go to Market Square either thirsty or hungry. You will lose a lot of money for very little and likely develop a headache in the scuffle.
Station Square is well- known for being one of Pittsburgh's nightlife hotspots, with bars and restaurants by the dozen. On St. Patrick's Day, Station Square is a bloody mess. Keep in mind, all bars in Pittsburgh proper are going to be bloody messes on St. Patrick's Day. If you're still young and reckless and have no trouble plowing through a crowd of drunken rowdy revelers to get an overpriced beer, then this is perfect for you! For those of us who have lived that life and moved on, it's lost most of its glamor. Still, the sights and sounds of the holiday echo throughout Station Square, and the view of the city from the waterfront is to die for any time of year, especially at night.
DO: Visit Station Square and take in the festivities at all the different bars.
DO NOT: Spend too much time trying to break through the mass of people to get to the bar at these establishments. Those people have probably been drinking since before dawn, and they will continue drinking on into the night. A lot of them have fought for their seat, and they're not moving.
DO: Visit your car if you parked it at Station Square. Hopefully you have used your car as a cache of supplies for the day, and you can drink some water and stronger spirits, rest your feet, and then get back up and go at it.
To wrap up our St. Patrick's Day adventure, my wife and I had booked passage aboard one of the Gateway Clipper Fleet ships for the annual Clarks concert. This internationally- known band has its roots in the Pittsburgh area, and comes back every year to perform to a few hundred people as they all cruise down the river past the city of Pittsburgh. Their music is good and the venue is awesome, and they put on a decent show. However, they are only part of the experience of the evening.
DO: Get up close and personal for a few minutes, perhaps push your way up onto the dance floor and snap a few good pictures.
DO NOT: Spend the entire evening on the dance floor. It's loud and crowded and populated mostly by the drunkest or most overzealous fans. Not exactly a good combination to spend an entire evening with.
DO: Go up onto the top deck and gaze at the city as you float by. Pittsburgh remains one of the prettiest cities in the US because of its grandiose architecture, and the views only improve at night. Try to spend at least an hour up there, just enjoying the night. You will have no trouble hearing the music, trust me! But you will not want to miss the majesty of Pittsburgh at night.
DO NOT: Spend too much on the food and drink on the boat. Not only is it a holiday and an exclusive event, but being on a boat there are no other food or drink options. The result? About 300% markup, that's what! I was able to afford one decent beer for myself and one girly beer for my wife, and it hurt the wallet something fierce! By the time the music starts, you need to have eased off on the drinking anyway. You still need to get home, after all!
All good things must come to an end, I'm afraid. By the time you've done all this, it is likely you will be getting into your car at well past your normal bedtime. Hopefully you have been careful enough to be sober so you only have to deal with fatigue as you drive. Parking at the Station Square garage was one of the smartest things we did, since it was close to where we got back from the Clarks cruise and also very close to the highway which took us home!
DO: Sober up by the time you have to get back in the car to go home.
DO NOT: Forget to pay your parking fees before you leave the garage.
DO: Go straight home, and be very careful driving home. Just because you have been careful not to be drunk behind the wheel does not mean that anyone else has! You're likely to have to dodge a crazy drunk driver or two on your way home, so stay on your toes!
So there you have it: our previous Pittsburgh adventure on St. Patrick's Day 2012! Do you have to follow our example to the letter? Absolutely not! Everyone has their own opinion of what makes a good time, but since we had such a good time last year and learned so much, I wanted to share it with you!
We had a blast last year, and plan to go again, weather and insane lives permitting. Who knows; perhaps I will have even more to tell you after St. Patrick's Day this year!
Whatever you do this St. Patrick's Day, whether it be a huge parade or a beer with your daddy at the kitchen table, just try and enjoy yourself! And the luck o' the Irish be with ye!