Practice your wasted Guinness face-palm
How many Irish pubs have you crawled your way through on a drunken St. Paddy's? Three? Five? Try 17. That's what I did two years ago. Wouldn't be an Irishman if I didn't represent. I can't exactly give you tips on which place serves the cheapest Guinness (expect to pay $6-8 per plastic cup) or which ones have the best bands (the roving kilted-firemen are tough to catch), but I can tell you Seattle has a ton of Irish Pubs to choose from, and they each have a different personality.
Practice your wasted Guinness face-palm
My friend, a journalist with the P-I, wrote up a list of Seattle Irish Pubs, and I challenged him to go to every single one. He accepted on the condition we not do 17 pubs on the 17th. He had to work, so I scheduled our trek across four days, averaging 4-5 pubs a night. Before I tell you about each pub, here are some quick lessons:
Lesson #1 Stay at a single pub where you're having a lot of fun instead of trying to see all the parties. The caveat to this is if you have a sober friend to drive all night long (thank you Humberto!) then, by all means, hop it up.
Lesson #2 Don't accept shitty service. Just because this will be the busiest day of the year for Irish pubs doesn't mean your server should feel free to treat you like scum. There are plenty of places to go where service is solid.
Lesson #3 Carry cash and count it often. I ended up spending around $200, (mostly in overdraft fees) because I couldn't keep track of how many Guinness I drank, covers I paid, and t-shirts/key chains I bought. Using a credit card in the middle of a crowd is also a surefire way to get your order "overlooked" at the bar.
Now on to the pubs. Below are the overall impressions each pub had on me. Keep in mind this was two years ago and some things like service and popularity can change:
Murphy's (Wallingford), Blarney Stone (Belltown), and the Ould Triangle (Greenwood) were empty (on the day before St. Paddy's, mind you) and not worth our time in the slightest. The Reading Gaol (Phinney/Ballard) was fine but the owner is now, sadly, deceased and the bar has since closed.
TS McHugh's (Lower Queen Anne) Sure, they have good food, but the service was poor on a slow night. I could only imagine how they handle a crowd.
Crazy Packed: Turn and Run:
Dubliner (Fremont) While great on any given Friday, on this magical night the place gets cramped very quickly.
Kells (Post Alley) is considered The Go-To place on St. Paddy's for drinkers with deep pockets. That alone should be warning enough to stay away.
Molly Maguire's (Phinney/Ballard) Warm and super loud, there is always a shortage of seats and I ended up squashed against the stairway eager to finish my drink and get to the next place.
Fadó (Pioneer Square) So insanely packed we couldn't even get onto the sidewalk in front.
Crazy Packed: Worth the Stay:
Clever Dunne's (Cap Hill) This pub takes its money-making machine seriously. One bar is not enough to handle the Cap Hill crowd, so two mini-bars serve warm Guinness and pricy jell-o shots from the far corners of the room. I'd say this was the most social pub I went to.
Celtic Swell (Alki) While featuring overpriced food and a ridiculous $20 cover, they at least hire good bands and the merchandise was nice. Only go here if you live in West Seattle.
Conor Byrne (Ballard) A volunteer fiddle group played wonderfully entrancing music and, although packed, the mood was mellow and comfortable.
Mick Finster's (Edmonds) This is a bit north, but I lived next to Mick's for years and have too many embarrassing stories to tell about 'earning' Jell-O shots, nefarious dwarves dressed like leprechauns, and scantily-clad servers. Come up here for a jaw-dropping night if you live on the north side.
A Terrible Beauty (Renton) Though far away from downtown, this place has a soft spot in my heart for handling crowds of any size and good service.
Finn MacCool's (U-District) I wanted to stay here forever. Cheapest Guinness, if I remember correctly, and draws the fun college crowd.
F.X. McRory's (Pioneer Square) Lots of taps, servers, and a gigantic wall of liquor. Great spot to catch the Seattle Firefighters in kilts playing pipes and drums.
Owl N' Thistle (Pioneer Square) They have live music, cozy atmosphere with comfy couches and Irish books lining the walls. I've heard it is hit or miss here for how busy it can get.
Paddy Coyne's (South Lake Union) This pub is extremely tiny but takes its Irish heritage very seriously. You'll find Seattle's rugby teams here and very professional staff, though if you don't stake out a seat early I'd just try it on a calmer night.