It's the time of year when people who aren't even remotely connected to the Emerald Isle hoist their glasses and pay homage to all things Irish.
On Saturday, parts of the Hillsborough River will turn green, gallons of Guinness stout will be poured, loads of corned beef and cabbage will be devoured and every Irish pub in the Tampa Bay area will be standing room only.
St. Patrick's Day, the annual holiday honoring the patron saint of Ireland, has long been an excuse for revelry. And this year it falls on a Saturday, when the weather is likely to be good and daylight savings time will allow for much time to make those "slainte" toasts.
The Tampa area's wearin' o' the green includes the annual Rough Riders St. Patrick's Day Parade, with 117 floats rumbling through Ybor City at 8 p.m. Saturday night.
Daylong street festivals are planned in Hyde Park, Westchase and Dunedin. The Bay Area Renaissance Festival salutes the Irish with green beer and a kilt contest, while the first-ever Irish bash gets under way in downtown Tampa at Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park.
Meanwhile, patrons will be shaking their shamrocks at all the Irish-themed pubs in the area, from O'Brien's Irish Pub in Carrollwood to Courigan's in downtown St. Petersburg.
"St. Patrick's Day is always our biggest day of the year, and we expect people will start celebrating on Friday this year," says Colin Breen, owner of the quaint, thatch–roofed Four Green Fields on Platt Street in Tampa, which will be hosting its 20th annual St. Paddy's Day festivities.
From a brunch buffet that begins at 10 a.m. to music and song through the afternoon and into the night, the regulars at Four Green Fields will have plenty of entertainment as they raise a glass, or two, or three, to all things Irish. "It's like a party for our regular customers where we see old friends here again," Breen says. For more information, visit www.fourgreenfields.com.
While Four Green Fields has one of the oldest St. Paddy's day events in Tampa, the new upscale Irish 31 on Swann Avenue in Hyde Park will host its first St. Patty's Palooza.
Manager Jay Mize says events there will include a street festival featuring Irish bands, a boxty (Irish potato pancake) eating contest and a St. Patrick look-a-like contest, the winner of which gets a trip to Ireland.
"We've been open a few months and we already have so many loyal customers, but we want people from Carrollwood, New Tampa or Brandon to come and check us out. We have an amazing spread of food," says Mize.
"It will be a family friendly event with face painters and balloon artists," Mize adds. "We're closing down Rome Avenue on Friday, and we'll have Irish music that day and on Saturday."
Irish 31 charges a $10 cover on Fridays and a $15 cover on Saturdays, or a $20 cover for both days. Portions of the proceeds go to the Mike Alstott Foundation. For more information, go to www.irish31.com.
One of the biggest Irish celebrations in the area is Flanagan's Street Festival in downtown Dunedin, where Irish singer and pub owner Noel Cooney presides over a day (11 a.m. to 11 p.m.) of free music from The Irish Buskers, The Fightin' Malones, The Dunedin Pipe Band, Cooney himself and others. See www.flanagansirishpub.net.
New this year is Mayor Bob Buckhorn's first River O'Green Fest from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park.
"St. Patrick's Day is an opportunity to celebrate our Irish heritage because everyone knows Ponce de Leon was really Ponce O'Leon," Buckhorn joked in a news release.
The city of Tampa plans to dye the Hillsborough River bright green between the Cass Street and Kennedy bridges. There will be six food trucks, Irish beer, a potato sack race, a potato toss, a jig dance competition and live entertainment. Get more info at www.tampagov.net.
The nearby Yacht StarShip will offer a St. Patrick's Day Cruise with corned beef and cabbage, Irish potatoes and soda bread for $29.95 for adults, $19.95 for children (plus taxes and port fees). For more info, go to www.yachtstarship.com
Another long-running tradition is the St. Paddy's Day Party at O'Keefe's Family Tavern & Grill in downtown Clearwater, which claims to have the state's largest Irish fest. This is the 51st annual celebration at the pub. The event kicks off Friday at 4 p.m. and includes live music, Irish food, green beer and a tiny weeny green bikini contest. More food, beer and music are offered from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday. There is a $5 cover charge before 9 p.m. and a $10 cover after 9 p.m. Learn more at www.okeefestavernonline.com
Other St. Patrick's Day events of note:
Shamrocks & Shenanigans, billed as the "Largest St. Patrick's Day Party in Tampa," will be at the Irish Village at the Bay Area Renaissance Festival, located off Fowler Avenue in Tampa. The festival is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Included this weekend will be Irish dancers, music, beer tastings, a kilt competition, a Scotch egg eating contest and more. Visit www.bayarearenaissancefest.com
Maloney's Local Irish Pub & Eatery in Westchase, also brags that it will have the area's biggest St. Patrick's Day blowout. The Saturday event begins at 8 a.m. with breakfast, followed by live music much of the day and into the night. See www.maloneyslocalirishpub.com
Other Irish pubs in the Tampa area planning to celebrate: All Beef 'O' Brady's Bay area locations, James Joyce Irish Pub in Ybor City; Mac Dinton's in South Tampa and St. Petersburg; The Dubliner Irish Pubs in Tampa and Citrus Park; The Wooden Door in Tampa; Shamrock's Ale House in Temple Terrace; P.J. Dolan's Irish Pub near USF; O'Toole's Irish Pub in Brandon; O'Brien's Irish Pubs in Plant City, Brandon and Tampa; Mulligan's Irish Pub at the Pebble Creek Golf Club in New Tampa; Nolan's Pub in Safety Harbor; Annie Moore Irish Pub in St. Pete Beach; O'Maddy's Bar and Grill in Gulfport; Finley's Irish Pub in Largo; and Crowley's, Courigan's, Durty Nelly's and The Emerald in downtown St. Petersburg.