To listen to Sharon Litwin’s interview with Stephen Patterson on WWNO radio, click here.
Most St. Patrick’s Day parades, with floats, bands and cabbages, go on for several hours.
And then there’s the shortest St. Patrick’s Day parade ever. At least that’s the promise from Stephen Patterson who, with his wife Pauline, owns Finn McCool’s, Mid-City’s over-the-top Irish bar.
“Absolutely, it’s the shortest,” he avows in his lilting Northern Ireland accent. “You enter through the front door, go past the bar and go back out again.”
He figures it will take all of about 10 minutes to complete and will happen around 7 p.m. on Saturday night. That will be about 12 hours after he opens the bar on St. Patrick’s Day, preparing for the traditional Irish breakfast he’ll serve beginning around 9 a.m. Breakfast will be followed by a plethora of activities, ranging from cabbage bowling to potato decorating to viewing the England versus Ireland Rugby match at noon.
Should you be hungry, you can get your fill of Irish stew, Shepherd’s Pie and Corned Beef and Cabbage; listen to Irish music; find out who wins the short story contest; and then dance til you drop from 9 p.m. til who knows when.
It’s become quite the Mid-City tradition to celebrate at Finn’s on St. Patrick’s Day. For Stephen and Pauline, it’s a way to celebrate not only the best known Irish holiday, but also a way to show their love for their adopted part of town.
Like so many others who have moved to the Crescent City, they visited New Orleans, then went home and dreamed about returning.
“We came from Belfast for a holiday, Pauline and I,” Stephen recalls. “She was just fascinated with ‘A Streetcar Named Desire.’ I think she was looking for Marlon Brando,” he says with a grin.
That was in the summer of 1990. They had planned to stay only a couple of days. They ended up staying for two weeks; left reluctantly so Pauline could finish art school; survived through a bleak cold winter; and returned shortly after.
“This city drew us like a magnet,” Stephen says. “When we first got here, we spent the first eight or nine months without ever leaving the French Quarter.”
They both got jobs bartending, mostly in Irish bars and pubs. Then they took the plunge and bought their own place.
“It was a real dive bar,” Stephen recalls. “It had lots of problems. So we closed it for about three months, cleaned it up and then re-opened. We gravitated toward Mid-City because the prices were still reasonable and we felt a sense of community.”
The sense of community grew after Hurricane Katrina, when the neighbors and the small contingent of Irish who live nearby worked closely together to muck out one anothers’ houses and bring back the neighborhood.
A number of good Samaritans from out of town who helped in that process have returned each year to celebrate. They’ll be part of the contingent again this year, marching in the shortest parade in town. Then, says Stephen, they’ll toast the king and queen, meet a real leprechaun (honest) and catch up with old and new friends onBanks Street, in this only-in-New–Orleans-style block party.
Culture Watch columnist Sharon Litwin is president of NolaVie.