St. Patrick's Day is the greenest, most wonderful day of the year, a day we celebrate free-flowing liquor, drunken shenanigans, lightly disguised alcoholism, and the snogging of random strangers just because they claim Gaelic ancestry. OK, so St. Paddy's special day isn't until later this month, but I just couldn't fucking wait. So I hit up an Irish pub nestled deep in the heart of Boca Raton. At Holloway's, every day is as booze-drenched and overflowing with Irish pride as St. Patrick's itself. Or, at least, it'll tide me over until the real deal.
Ambiance: Holloway's is quite pleasant from the outside. Its white-stoned, white-walled patio seating area faces the Mizner pavilion, and the scent of fresh jasmine permeates the air. I took an extra-long whiff of the pleasant aroma and passed through the glass doors — which are decorated with painted-on shamrocks — and stepped inside. The interior of the bar can best be described as what you might get if several leprechauns were to explode inside a bar. The forest-green carpets make the place seem like you have wandered inside a giant shamrock; bright-green ashtrays dot the dark-wood furniture and bar, and Irish-inspired paraphernalia adorns every wall. The bar stretches along the dark-red left wall, and I took a spot at the unoccupied end, right next to an electronic poker game. I stared expectantly at Katie, the pleasant-faced, blond bartender.
Drinks: Katie buzzed around the bar, occasionally darting back to the kitchen to retrieve a deep-fried platter of food for a hungry customer. She brought me a cold Newcastle and introduced me to Mike, the shaggy-haired bar owner. He told me the place was family-owned, had been around for seven years, and that he pours a damned good glass of Guinness.
"I'm serious," he said. "It's an art."
"I believe you," I said. An Irishman would never lie, right? I asked him what kind of people frequent the place.
"All kinds," he said. "We have a good group of regulars. We also get college kids — but we've trained them not to tear stuff off the walls, and they're pretty well-behaved. Boca has a lot of attitude. People are used to just paying for everything they want. But we give attitude right back to them.
"We also get the former ambassador to Ireland in here quite a bit," he continued. "He'll sometimes come for our big St. Patrick's Day celebration."
"What happens on St. Patrick's day?" I asked.
"We block off the street, have beer tents, Irish dancers, and 400 pounds of corned beef brought in," he said.
Is it too late to convert to Irish?
Customers: I sidled up to C.J., or Caomhan, as his mama calls him. C.J. is a pale, well-dressed, clean-cut businessman who sat sipping a beer and snacking on a late dinner.
"You a regular here?" I asked.
"No, it's my first time," he said with a strong Irish accent. "I'm from Dublin; I'm only in Boca for two months on a business merger."
I asked him what he thought of Boca so far.
"A lot of old people," he said. "So many that at first, I thought it was staged — like I was on a Candid Camera episode or something. But they're all right."
"Except at driving," I said. Then: "Aw, did you come to an Irish bar because you're homesick for Ireland?"
"I didn't come here expecting a real Irish pub," he said quickly. "There are tons of bars that claim to be Irish, but they're nothing like real Irish pubs. It doesn't matter what shit you have on your walls. It's about friendly people and bartenders. It's in the atmosphere."
"There are tons of so-called Irish bars right here in Boca," I said.
Well, of course he was right. In the world of beer-swigging, the Irish are a motley assortment of red-headed, freckly, high-toleranced gods.
"Irishmen have a reputation for being able to hold their liquor," I said.
"I've heard that," he said. I couldn't tell if he was proud or annoyed to have his heritage completely categorized by the ability to down a shitload of booze.
St. Patrick's Day: Nearby was Ruben, a young man who wore long gray pants and a black shirt. He'd been at the bar for a while, joking with Katie.
"What's the craziest thing that's ever happened to you here at Holloway's?" I asked him.
"Oh no," Katie walked away, as if not to incriminate herself in the conversation.
Ruben smiled mischievously. He explained that his birthday is on St. Patrick's Day, and he came to Holloway's for it a couple of years ago. "It was a huge celebration. There were tents of booze everywhere, and I got drunk really fast. I was doing the 'drunk dance.' "
The drunk dance?
"You know, when you're walkin' all over the place," he said. "Well, I fell onto somebody's table — two couples were seated there. But I think it was a double date gone bad, because afterward, the girls paid for part of my tab. And I never saw them again, though the guys still come in here pretty regularly."
By now, Katie had walked back over.
"We haven't told her yet about streaking day," Ruben said slyly.
"No," Katie screwed up her face in disgust. "He's lying. There is absolutely none of that."
"Oh, come on," I said. "If I wrote that you guys have a streaking day, you'd get tons of people in here."
"Yeah, naked people," said Katie. "I'm OK without that."
I turned to C.J. and asked if he'd be coming back for St. Patrick's Day. He thought about it for a minute, visibly counting the days in his head. "Nope," he said finally. "I don't think so."
He didn't seem too disappointed about it either, but who could blame him? He was going to be home in Ireland for St. Patrick's Day, and although I was sure to be at Holloway's, the next best thing, I couldn't help but be a little jealous. After all, the grass is always greener on the other side, and the drunken shenanigans are always more drunken in Ireland.