Buses unwelcome at South Side Irish Parade

Photograph: Nathan Rupert

For about 20 years, Streeterville bar Timothy O'Toole's has sent buses down to the South Side during the Irish Parade. Then the parade went on hiatus three years ago, reportedly due to out of control crowds, fights and vandalism. This year, when the parade announced its return, Timothy O'Toole's enthusiastically planned another bus trip. Until it received a phone call from the South Side Irish St. Patrick's Day Parade Committee discouraging the buses.

"It's really frustrating for us," says Timothy O'Toole's owner Humberto Martinez Jr. "We've been doing it for years. At one time, it was accepted." O'Toole's isn't the only Chicago bar to tell Time Out it received a phone call encouraging it to cancel its bus trip. Like others, Timothy O'Toole's obliged.

One of the biggest deterrents: The parade committee reportedly told bars that drop-off and pick-up locations accommodate only two buses at a time, and, adding confusion, the bus drop-off location is around a mile from the pick-up location. The parade committee told Time Out locations are not set in stone at this time.

But bars like Timothy O'Toole's, which has spent years transporting patrons to large events such as Bears games, know that unusual pick-up and drop-off locations can confuse customers. "There are times when the city pushes our pick-up locations a block up. Communicating that to a couple hundred people is never easy," says Martinez. "At Soldier Field, you wave a cab down. But on the South Side, I don't think it's quite that simple."

At one time, Timothy O'Toole's would bus patrons to watch the Irish parade and leave them at South Side bars, where customers received a seat in a controlled environment. Subsequent years' regulated drop-off and pick-up locations meant bars bused patrons into the area, and wouldn't see them until pick up time.

Another sore spot for bars: Police plan to ID bus patrons at the parade. Time Out confirmed this with the parade committee. However, it is legal for minors to recreate on buses and around drop-offs, which are public locations. Even if police find a way to do this legally, it will take an inordinate amount of time to unload the buses.

Ultimately, Timothy O'Toole's decided against a bar bus trip because it didn't want to disgruntle its customers or the parade planners, who believe their neighborhood event had spiraled out of control in recent years. 

Martinez looks forward to a time when the parade can feel it has regained control over crowds. "It's a chance for South Side bars to showcase what some people don't even know exists or what to expect. And it's a great area. It's a shame they don't get a chance to showcase that."

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Laura Baginski, Editor (@TimeOutChicago)