Chicago sobers up St. Patrick’s Day

City Hall increases fines for public intoxication and urination.

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Photograph: Courtesy of Spencer Huang/WCHI News

Next to those ill-fitting kelly-green plastic derby caps, an open container of alcohol is the St. Patrick’s Day Parade reveler’s traditional accessory. But the city is making a special effort this year to keep paradegoers from bringing booze anywhere near a St. Paddy’s procession.


Last month, the City Council unanimously passed an amendment increasing penalties for sidewalk drinkers and public urinators within 800 feet of a parade. The ordinance was sponsored by Ald. Matthew O’Shea—an Irishman even!—to help curb the intoxication that plagued the South Side Irish Parade in his 19th Ward. The measure ups the fine for tippling on the public way or taking a leak outdoors from $100–$500 to $500–$1,000—all in an effort to give the de facto drinking holiday’s cavalcades of consumption a family-friendly makeover.


But isn’t extracting the alcohol from a St. Paddy’s Day parade akin to removing the commerce from Christmas? “That’s immature thinking,” says Michael Tierney, director of political and municipal affairs with the Local 130 Journeymen Plumbers Union, which has organized the downtown parade since 1957. “Some people go just to get annihilated. That’s why we have marshals at Columbus and Balbo. If people have any type of cup, we make them get rid of it. I don’t care if it’s a coffee cup, ’cause most of the time it’s filled with beer.” One recent year, Tierney recalls, a guy wheeled in a keg resting in a baby stroller. He was summarily booted.


So why again should people head to the parade? “All the great Irish bands and dance groups!” Tierney enthuses. If you can’t be entertained without some Jameson, you may also need a little luck of the Irish.


The downtown St. Patrick’s Day Parade sets off from Balbo Avenue and Columbus Drive Saturday 16 at noon.



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