Monday March 17 is St. Patrick's Day. Now, there are Irish folk all over the UK, and celebrations will be taking place all across the country this weekend, with parades and performances in Birmingham, Glasgow and Leeds. But the biggest party of all will be happening in London on Sunday March 16, with 100,000 be-greened revellers descending upon Trafalgar Square for the annual festivities. So if you're in the mood for a party there's no better time to visit the capital, so jump on board, paint a shamrock on your face and get down to the Big Smoke for what may be the biggest and best toast yet to venerable old Paddy! Here's a Cool Places guide to the best of Irish London.
It's thought that around 5 million pints of Guinness will be drunk in the UK this Paddy's Day, so what better way to start than with a pint of the black stuff at a proper Irish boozer. Just a Blarney stone's throw from King's Cross/St Pancras, The Boot on Cromer Street is the real deal, a brave stalwart against the tide of gentrification sweeping the area. Charles Dickens himself once propped up the bar here (you can visit his house around the corner on Doughty Street), and The Boot served as the unofficial HQ of The Pogues in their salad days. With hurley sticks and other GAA memorabilia to admire, plus a free buffet on the bar, you couldn't ask for a better welcome.
Speaking of sport, it's the last weekend of the Six Nations on Saturday, and you can cheer on the boys at Waxy O' Connor's in
Piccadilly – a cavernous, theme-park of a pub (complete with colossal
fibre-glass tree) that may be more 'Oirish' than authentic but which is still a raucous and unpretentious hangout, with live music in the evenings. For a low-key alternative to the rugby, the Toucan, just off Soho Square, is a temple to the black stuff, with over 250 years
worth of inimitable Guinness advertising adorning the walls. It's also a
hallowed site in London's rock & roll heritage, for that honorary Irishman
Jim O' Hendrix once played in the Touc's tiny basement. Oh, and don;t forget the marvellous Tipperay on Fleet Street, reckoned to be London's oldest Irish boozer, and still serving up great Irish food, booze and music – even the bar staff sometimes sing!
In fact it wouldn't be Paddy's Day without a bit of traditional music, and the Auld Shillelagh in Stoke Newington is one of the places in to whip out the bodhrán and tin whistle. With suited-and-booted barmen direct from the Emerald Isle who take their stout seriously, this narrow Church Street institution can also claim with some confidence to serve "North London's best pint of Guinness".
Heading back into central London, The Harp in Covent Garden is a
mecca for ale drinkers, especially since CAMRA voted it Pub of the Year 2010–2011.
With its distinctive green frontage, Victorian portraits and stained glass,
you could almost be in Temple Bar (albeit a less pricey version). Best of all, it's just round the corner
from Trafalgar Square so you can join in this Sunday's festivities. The St. Patrick's Day parade
will set off from Piccadilly at noon and this year features marching bands, Irish dancing and giant inflatable dragon. There's also a comedy tent hosted
by the London Irish Comedy Festival and even an Irish food market.
Wherever you choose to celebrate St Patrick's Day this weekend, the craic will be mighty in London for sure, with a resounding Céad Míle Fáilte to one and all.