Arguably the biggest international celebration of any single country’s individual culture is St Patrick’s Day. On March 17, anyone with even the most tenuous of Irish connections and just about everyone else as well, finds an excuse to drink a pint of stout, wear whatever green clothing you might own and generally just sing, dance and make merry. In Chicago of course, the river is temporarily dyed green and a huge parade is held.

And a big factor in why the national day of this particular country has such an impact worldwide, despite being 5,115 miles away from sunny Santa Monica, is the phenomenon that is the Irish bar. Think of them — think of each of them — as a teeny-tiny oasis: a safe haven where you know exactly what to expect inside. And if you’ve ever traveled extensively, or found yourself in a foreign country with a less-than-fluent grasp of the local language, spying an Irish bar on the horizon means you can probably find a little taste of something familiar.

On the outside, they look like almost any ordinary dive bar, but there will always be an Irish name atop the front door. Once inside, the decor is usually somewhere between “sports bar,” “snug” and “spit-n-sawdust,” but they’ll always offer decent beer and good food. And most importantly, you’ll find friendly folk, wherever you are, whatever country you’re in.

Santa Monica has two Irish pubs and an Irish-themed sports bar: O’Briens Irish Pub (2226 Wilshire Blvd), Sonny McLean’s Irish Pub (2615 Wilshire Blvd) and Jameson’s Pub (2702 Main St). Thankfully, they all survived the pandemic, because not every bar or restaurant did.

“Three years ago, we got shut down the day before St Patrick’s Day,” said Grant Woods, owner of Sonny McLean’s Irish Pub. While he can find a funny side now, clearly it took a while to get to this stage.

“I’d ordered 90 pounds of beef and so many vegetables, produce, everything. We were told at one o’clock that we had to shut and the delivery had arrived at 10 o’clock that same morning. We can’t send it back, we can’t do anything. It was so demoralizing.

“We thought it was just going to be a couple of weeks, right? And then the second lockdown was right before Thanksgiving. It was so upsetting, because this is our business, it was really hard to have to close down. But, we made it. We’re through it, out on the other side.”

St Patrick’s Day this year falls on a Friday and Woods says that he expects crowds to gather, more or less, from opening time at 11 a.m. onwards. He has live music planned, dancing, plus a special menu, including corned beef, cabbage and potatoes, with many of the chairs and tables being temporarily moved to make more room inside.

For Willy O’Sullivan, owner of O’Briens Pub, this will be his 28th St Patrick’s Day in Santa Monica. Much like Woods, O’Sullivan too was faced with an equally disruptive, nightmare-like ordeal when he was forced to close down three years ago.

“Business has been amazing this year and it almost fills me with fear when I think of the crowds that we’ll get on Friday,” O’Sullivan laughs. “It’s not Valentine’s Day or anything like that, when we’re competing with every restaurant in the area, there are only a handful of Irish bars in the whole of Los Angeles, a city with nearly four million people in it.”

Much like Sonny McLean’s, O’Briens too will have live music, dancing, traditional Irish food and drinks together with gazebos for the outdoor dining and patio areas, should the heaven’s decide to open at any time on Friday.

And every pure blood Irelander will be shaking off the hangover from the night before and up early on Saturday morning for a 10 a.m. kickoff for the final game of the Six Nations rugby tournament, which will see the currently-very-strong Ireland take on the currently-not-so-strong England in Dublin’s fair city. Ireland have won all of their games in this year’s Six Nations so far — beating France, Italy, Wales and Scotland — so they’re playing for pride and the Grand Slam.

Ireland has been a contender in the international rugby scene for nearly 150 years and as yet, has never clinched a grand slam at Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Should Ireland win, which frankly they’re expected to, this weekend will be one worthy of some serious celebration. Yes, even if you’re an England supporter. Both O’Briens Irish Pub and Sonny McLean’s Irish Pub will be showing the rugby on Saturday morning.

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Scott Snowden

Scott fell in love with Santa Monica when he was much younger and now, after living and working in five different countries, he has returned. He's written for the likes of the FT, NBC, the BBC and CNN.