Jack McGarry (@JackMcGarry3) is the managing partner of The Dead Rabbit and Blacktail at Pier A, both in New York City. McGarry, an Irish native from Belfast, along with fellow Irishman Sean Muldoon, opened The Dead Rabbit in lower Manhattan in 2013. They wanted to “bring the Irish pub into the 21st century.” In 2016, it ranked #1 bar at the World’s 50 Best Bars awards, the most prestigious title in the cocktail bar industry. In light of St. Patrick's Day, we asked McGarry to reflect not only on the differences between American and Irish customs when it comes to celebrating the holiday, but also what St. Patty's represents back in the homeland.
[McGarry’s thoughts have been lightly edited.]
I had always known about St. Patrick’s Day in America, but I remember the day Sean [Muldoon] first took me to the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in New York. It was March 17th, 2011. I was traumatized! I’ve never seen people behave like that on St. Patrick’s Day back home. Guys were obnoxious, drunk and disorderly, and the women weren’t much better.
I was horrified seeing people throwing up and drunk at 10am. It seemed to me that St.Patrick’s Day was a day Americans got a green card to get as crazy as they wanted. I was disheartened and couldn’t wait to get out of the area. We made our way down to Swift Hibernian Lounge that day. I ended up having a great day with Irish expats and friends. It wasn’t crazy, but it wasn’t exactly sober either.
I’ve thought about it many times, whether the way Americans celebrate St. Patrick’s Day is disrespectful. Sometimes I still question it.
St. Patrick's Day in Ireland is a big day, but nowhere near as big as it is in the States. Each community in Belfast would have a day with fun activities planned. Each street was literally closed off. Essentially, everyone’s house was open to the entire street, and kids just played around while the adults would drink and play music. I remember it being very confined to the community, but also very open to outsiders.
I feel in the U.S., St. Patrick’s Day is used as an identity refresher if you’re an expat or a descendant of Irish immigrants. In Ireland, it’s a community day spent in your neighborhood with your family. It’s more relaxed. Whereas in the States, New York in particular, the main emphasis is on drinking and getting after it.
I’ve thought about it many times, whether the way Americans celebrate St. Patrick’s Day is disrespectful. Sometimes I still question it. Ultimately, and most importantly, I think their behavior comes from a great place. The intentions are pure, mostly. People do want to celebrate our culture and the day as a whole. The execution is when it goes wrong with this misconception that you have to be hammered or get crazy because that’s the Irish way. That’s not what it’s about back home. Again, it’s about family, community, and hospitality. So that’s the way we celebrate our St.Patrick’s Day at The Dead Rabbit.
Our mission statement here at The Dead Rabbit is to bring the Irish pub into the 21st century. The Irish pub has essentially been commodified and pigeonholed as something inferior. Green breads, green beers, and leprechauns are all novelty features. That’s not what The Dead Rabbit is about and, in my opinion, it’s not what St. Patrick’s Day is about either.
[There's] this misconception that you have to be hammered or get crazy because that’s the Irish way. That’s not what it’s about back home.
We serve a great product 365 days a year, and we wouldn’t dilute that to make a quick buck on St. Patrick’s Day. Therefore, we always celebrate our World’s Best Irish Coffee, one of the best pints of Guinness you’ll get in the city, our fantastic Irish whiskey selection and cocktails, and our people who are focused on great hospitality.
So, in saying that, if you come to drink to the stage of debauchery and are not respectful of your surroundings, you won’t be allowed in The Dead Rabbit. And, if you’re wondering—nope, I’ve never had a green beer. And I never will.
As told to Aaron Goldfarb