A Parade, River Street And Dying The River and Fountains Green Only Hints at The Fun Here on March 17
The first bar opens at 6 a.m.
The last one closes (the same one, actually) at 3 a.m.
In between, there is wildness and revelry (all harmless fun; it’s important to point that out these days), green beer, green fountains, a green river and 300,000+ people dressed in green. And I’m green with envy because I won’t be there this year.
It’s St. Patrick’s Day in Savannah, Ga.
While Boston, Chicago, New York and even New Orleans get their share of the national attention – and deservedly so – this medium-sized Southern town on the coast of Georgia carries on an annual party that makes you wonder why you would want to be anywhere else on March 17.
It’s so spectacular in Savannah on this day that the first order of business for people checking out of their hotels after it’s over is to make a reservation for next year.
St. Patrick’s Day in Savannah is Spring Break without a beach (well, there is a beach, a half hour away at Tybee Island, but on this day it’s as deserted as an empty plastic beer cup).
It’s what people who live there talk about for half a year building up to it, and another couple of months after it, reliving that year’s stories.
I know, I used to live there, and experienced it quite often. My first time, I was green, all right, but green as in inexperienced with the experience. I simply had no idea it was that big or great of a party.
I certainly got a hint of things to come the couple of days building up to St. Patrick’s Day. The pace of the city picked up (that was easy to spot in a normally more methodical-moving place like Savannah) and on the day itself there was an uncommon amount of commotion.
It started with my roommate. If I ever saw him before noon, I had to double-check my watch. He was not exactly what you would call an early riser.
But on this day, he was awake by 9 a.m. And had a beer in his hand. We lived downtown, and people were walking around the street, all headed to somewhere, all with a beer in hand (Savannah, God bless it’s heart, is like New Orleans and Las Vegas in that you can walk around town with a drink. The bars even have plastic “to go” cups on a table by the door).
All those people, as it turned out, were headed to the parade. I imagined the parade to just be some small thing, but turns out it’s huge. It goes on for hours.
The first person I saw wandering around one of the city’s squares – one in which Forrest Gump used in the movie – was our mayor at the time. As does any fine ambassador, he was immersing himself in the city’s most glorious event. It was likely he started his day at Pinky Master’s, perhaps even as it opened at 6 a.m., timed to when the first pub opens in Dublin. Or so they said in Savannah.
Now when the mayor is tossing ’em down in public, I figured I was in for a good time!
The parade was awesome. Or should I say the scene around the parade was awesome. The squares, sidewalks and streets were full of people and everyone was saying hello and smiling or laughing. Marching bands were playing music. Parties – open to anyone – had broken out in businesses around the squares.
It was impossible to find a frown or a person without a plastic cup of beer in their hand.
But, as it turns out, this is not where the real party happens in Savannah on St. Patrick’s Day. That, I soon learned, takes place a few blocks away, down on River Street, a narrow one-lane cobblestone path by the Savannah River with an assortment of small bars, restaurants and probably a few shops that I never noticed because I was always going to the bars and restaurants.
To say River Street was packed does not accurately portray the number of people that were on the street. Imagine the most crowded bar you’ve ever been in, and move that outside. That was River Street.
We slowly squirmed our way through the throng and made it to a wider area in front of the #1 St. Patrick’s Bar in Savannah, Spanky’s. Such it was at Spanky’s that they cleared out all the tables and you just kind of circled around the place to get a beer from any of the temporary beer stations. Then you shuffled back outside.
Rinse, wash, repeat, right!?
The scene was nuts, something I could not has envisioned beforehand, even if I had sky-high expectations for the day. People were jammed next to one another but no one seemed to mind. They were laughing and singing Irish songs.
Every now and then, a girl would be lifted up from the crowd and – no other way to describe this – would literally be passed from person to person toward Spanky’s on top of the outstretched arms of people. As she went along, her shirt and, in the case of one gal, her entire jeans, would be peeled off by people as she passed above them.
The girls thought all this was a hoot and were laughing hysterically. Out of the balcony of Spanky’s office leaned a few guys – the owner and managers, I assumed – waving a t-shirt to her as encouragement, the way one does food to try and direct an animal to a certain location.
When the girl got close to the building, she would rise up and lift up her shirt – if she still had one – or remove whatever she had hiding her breasts, and the guys in the Spanky’s window would throw her the t-shirt. She would hold it up and the crowd would roar.
This, I soon learned, was an annual unofficial event called “Tits for Tees,” and it’s why River Street was the top party place in Savannah.
That practice, I have been told, has since been suspended.
All good things must come to an end, I suppose. And so, too, eventually did my time in Savannah.
Every year, as St. Patrick’s Day approaches, I think about Savannah. One of these days, I’ll go back again, wearing green, but no longer green on experience.