A whiskey slamming, beer guzzling good time

Local bartenders brace for St. Patrick’s Day

By: Jennie Miller | C&G Newspapers | Published March 14, 2012

 Nick Arrigo, 33, of Royal Oak, a bartender for the last 12 years, serves up St. Patrick’s Day themed cocktails at Joe Muer Seafood in Detroit, including an Irish coffee.

Nick Arrigo, 33, of Royal Oak, a bartender for the last 12 years, serves up St. Patrick’s Day themed cocktails at Joe Muer Seafood in Detroit, including an Irish coffee.

Photo by Andrew Potter

An electronic sign on the wall reads “10 days, 14 hours, 15 minutes and 4.32 seconds.”

“That’s the countdown until the end of my life,” laughed Melisa Valentine, 25, of Ferndale, a bartender at the Blarney Stone Pub in Berkley.

She’s kidding of course. The countdown marks the time left before St. Patrick’s Day, the annual holiday many celebrate by bellying up to the bar. But for those tasked with handling the crowds and their beverage orders from behind the bar, it’s a far different experience.

“It’s nonstop from the second you get in until the second you leave,” said Valentine, who has been bartending for six years at various locations in metro Detroit.

“It’s a marathon,” echoed Nick Arrigo, 33, of Royal Oak, currently a bartender at Joe Muer Seafood in Detroit who has worked behind the bar for 12 years at various venues, including The Hill Seafood & Chophouse in Grosse Pointe Farms, Four Green Fields in Royal Oak and the Detroit Yacht Club. “Bartending on days like that, you don’t stop moving. It’s constant. There’s never a lull. Halfway through, you realize you should have taken the day off because everyone seems to be having so much fun. But if you work at a place that gets busy on St. Patty’s Day, it can make your week — it can make your month. It’s not uncommon for a bartender to make a thousand dollars that day.”

But it’s far from easy work. Many bars open early for St. Patrick’s Day — some as early as 7 a.m. — and the patrons come out in droves.

“It depends on what day it falls,” Arrigo said. “If it’s on a weekday, people will take work off for it because it’s a big party, and maybe they’ll even take off the day after, too. It’s the best when it falls on a weekend because it doesn’t affect your work. This year, because it’s on a Saturday, it’ll be absolutely insane.”

It’s a “happy holiday,” said Carrie O’Neill, 38, of Troy, general manager at The Rock on Third in Royal Oak, who has been bartending since 1995.

“I don’t know what it is about St. Patrick’s Day, but people just love it,” O’Neill said. “It’s a sea of green, and everyone’s happy.”

“It’s a fun atmosphere — it’s the one day I think everyone’s in a good mood and everyone gets along,” echoed CJ Bloss, 23, of Clawson, a bartender at O’Toole’s in Royal Oak.

Costumes are not out of the ordinary. While the focus is on the color green, bar patrons also don accessories, from hats and festive antennas to feather boas and temporary tattoos.

Some bars hold costume contests or offer face painting, Bloss said. A pack of bagpipers strolls through the bars in Royal Oak throughout the day on St. Patrick’s Day, offering traditional tunes as customers sip specific beverages to mark the occasion.

“Lots of Irish beer,” O’Neill said without hesitation. “Guinness, Harp, Smithwick’s, Killian’s, and of course green beer — it’s not a traditionally Irish thing; it’s an American-Irish thing, and people love it.”

The Rock has also stocked its coolers with local beer — Michael Faricy’s Irish Stout from the Arbor Brewing Co., and they ordered Arcadia Irish Red on draft just for the occasion.

“There’s a lot of Jameson Irish whiskey, a lot of Irish car bombs,” Arrigo said, explaining that an Irish car bomb is a half a pint of Guinness with a shot of Jameson and Bailey’s Irish Cream plopped in.

“You drop it and slam it,” Arrigo explained. “But you’ve got to drink it fast or it curdles.”

Make a drink green, and it’s even more suitable for the occasion.

“You could do a drink that’s both Irish and green with a little whiskey, some Bailey’s and then green crème de menthe,” Arrigo said. “Shake it up and serve it in a margarita glass.”

Using Midori or Apple Pucker Schnapps is also popular on the occasion because of the liquors’ vibrant green color.

“We have a new drink this year I’m sure everyone will (be drinking) — it’s called a Happy Leprechaun. It’s vodka, Blue Curaçao and OJ,” Bloss said. “It’s really good, and it’s green.”

The Rock also offers green Jell-O shots on St. Patrick’s Day, as well as traditional Irish fare, such as corned beef and cabbage and Mulligan stew.

“We all love it — we get really into all the different holidays around here,” O’Neill said, as shamrocks and other decorations already lined the walls of the bar almost two weeks before St. Patrick’s Day. “We look forward to it. It’s a bigger party atmosphere. We’re not a typical Irish bar — even though we have an Irish background. A lot of people just look for some of their favorite places to hang out.”