ST. PATRICK'S DAY, March 17, may be the only holiday when many of us Americans celebrate a culture not our own. We wear green clothes and maybe a button that says "Kiss Me, I'm Irish" - and we party hearty at a shindig put on by our favorite bar or restaurant, toasting one another with mugs of green-tinted beer.
So, if we non-Irish folk party hearty on St. Patty's - what do the real McCoys do? Where do Baltimoreans of Irish descent celebrate their heritage?
We asked several local Irish folk where they like to spend St. Patrick's Day. And wouldn't you know it, they gave us a lucky seven - seven places in and around Baltimore where they go on their big day and don't mind sharing with the rest of us.
St. Patrick's Church
317 S. Broadway, Fells Point
"The true Irishmen start out with [10 o'clock] Mass at St. Patrick's Church in Fells Point," says Mike Murphy, 49, one of the top salesmen at the Light Street Jos. A. Bank Clothiers store.
"The Irish Men's Chorale generally sings at it," adds Baltimore lawyer Mike May, 54. "The Knights of Columbus Honor Guard is there as well. The church is always packed, and lots of dignitaries are there, too."
Generally, the Mass and a short reception afterward last about two hours. All are welcome - non-Catholic and non-Irish alike.
Confirming that St. Patrick's Church is the place to be on St. Patrick's Day, Murphy notes, "What a coincidence - the address is 317 S. Broadway."
2918 O'Donnell St., Canton
Canton's Irish pub is Murphy's favorite St. Pat's Day lunch spot. While he loves the Irish fare there, 40-ish actress Katie O'Hare likes Claddagh for its other St. Patty's Day culinary choices.
"I may be the only Irish person who won't touch corned beef and cabbage," O'Hare says. Instead, she goes for Claddagh's "great cheeseburger."
The younger side of Baltimore's Irish set likes Claddagh on St. Patrick's Day for other reasons - its street party.
"It's an outdoor festival," says Sean Hearn, 36, president of S. Joseph Advertising.
"Drinking some beer outdoors on St. Patrick's Day and listening to music - you can't beat that," Hearn says.
Obviously, lots of people agree. The celebrating crowd flows out of the eatery and into nearby Curley Street, which is blocked off at the intersection with O'Donnell, tented and heated for Claddagh's two-day "Meet in the Street" party. The bash also offers continuous live contemporary music, starting at 11 a.m., both Saturday and Sunday.
J. Patrick's Irish Pub
1371 Andre St., Locust Point
"You start off early at Claddagh," says Gengy Egan Vaikness, tournament director for Pam Shriver's Tennis Challenge. "And when it gets so jampacked you can't stand it anymore, you go over to J. Patrick's."
Not that the Irish hangout in Locust Point is any less crowded. Folks of all ages start piling in and claiming tables there as soon as the doors open at 7 a.m. on St. Patrick's Day.
Owner Joe Burns says, yep, they do serve "that traditional American dish of corned beef and cabbage" (the true Irish eat ham, he says). But the big draw is one of Baltimore's most popular Irish bands, Rigadoo.
"The music makes you want to get up and do the Irish jig," says Vaikness, 32. "Especially for people who took Irish dancing when they were little - like I did, with my sisters and all my cousins."
Cat's Eye Pub
1730 Thames St., Fells Point
Johns Hopkins Hospital oncology nurse Saundra Johnson loves the "cute, quaint" feel of the Cat's Eye, with its mural of Ireland's history on the walls and loads of Irish memorabilia.
"You kinda feel like you're in a real Irish pub when you're there," Johnson, 26, explains.
On Saturday, the feel will definitely be more crammed than quaint, as the Cat's Eye heats and tents its courtyard to accommodate a holiday crowd there to enjoy what co-owner Anna Marie Cushing describes as live "rebel Irish music."
The Fabulous Potato Heads play from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m., followed by Dogs Among the Bushes, from 7 p.m. to the 1:30 a.m. closing time.
Mick O'Shea's Irish Pub and Restaurant
328 N. Charles St., downtown
"Lots of real Irish people, people from Ireland with lots of great accents, good food and the best Guinness," is how Saundra Johnson sums up this classic Irish pub smack in the middle of downtown Baltimore.
Karen Patten, 38, co-owner of Kali's Court restaurant, agrees. "[Mick O'Shea's] is authentic, nitty-gritty Irish," she says. "There's nothing fake there."
"And when you're Irish, you want to be around Irish people," says Nancy Hinds, 39, director of communications for the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association.
Baltimore's Irish-American mayor, Martin O'Malley, performs with his band, O'Malley's March, at Mick O'Shea's every St. Patrick's Day. Both Hinds and Sean Hearn trek there to see our musical mayor at play.
They're not the only ones looking forward to the 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. show.