Is it too late to discuss St. Patrick’s Day 2009?

Never! (Especially considering that President Obama declared March 2009 Irish-American Heritage Month.)

Let me preface this by saying that this year, I was determined to have the most clichéd and drunken evening possible, because SPD 2008 was a sorry excuse for a holiday, spent in the upstairs room of a bar in Midtown drinking substitute Guinness (they had run out of the real stuff) from a plastic cup. I wasn’t wearing green and I was home by 11:00pm, still cringing at the memory of college kids from Pennsylvania with emerald glitter on their faces trying to line dance to a Dropkick Murphys song. Not the best time.

So this March 17th, armed with a critical eye and the determination to make myself enjoy a Guinness, I set out in a white, green, and orange tourist T-shirt reading “Irish New York” and struck out into the wilds of Hell’s Kitchen.

With my friends Tina and Ben, I stopped first at Lansdowne Road, a pub supposedly owned by an Irishman. Whoever the owner is, he is at least savvy enough to hire Irish bartenders. That accent has got to increase tips. Not only was this place decked out in shiny green streamers, it also featured real life leprechauns!

Yes, it is possible to offend Irish people as well as little people, of all nationalities, in one tacky embodiment of all that is wrong with St. Patrick’s Day in America! I did not know if I should laugh or clap or look away. Everyone else thought it was fun, obviously, and I’m sure those little men were well-paid (well I hope so), but I just felt awkward.

Moving on. One pint of Harp down. We stopped at Mr. Biggs across the street, a distinctly un-Irish (and therefore un-crowded) place doing its respectable best with some shamrock stickers in the windows. It was there, ladies and gentlemen, that I drank my first Irish Car Bomb.

For those of you not in the alcoholic know, this entails a pint of Guinness filled ¾ of the way, and a shot of half Baileys Irish cream, half Jameson whiskey. Step one: drop shot into pint glass. Step two: chug the whole delicious concoction before the Baileys curdles in the stout and it’s just gross. It should be noted that this is a distinctly Irish American invention.

You might get away with it in Dublin, but don’t try asking for a Car Bomb in some rural Galway pub. Not recommended.

Here I am, looking in the wrong direction in the shamelessly promotional Tullamore Dew cut out leaning on an electrical box outside The Mean Fiddler. It should be renamed The Mean Bouncer Who Charges Ten Bucks Just to Get In. We hightailed it out of there when we heard that, to The Blarney Stone a block away.

By the time we mited to Hibernia, I was 3 Car Bombs and 2 pints of Guinness in, telling anyone who would listen that I LOVE Guinness now, and why didn’t I drink it before? By the time we rounded out the night back at Lansdowne Road for one last shared pint, I was wearing a pair of what I kept referring to as Irish antennae, sparkly shamrocks stuck onto bouncy coils attached to a headband, and could not have been prouder of my last name or my drunken state.

Along the way, however, I couldn’t help but take notice of the oddities of the night. The first one came in the form of Miller Lite hats.

We accept the commercialization of St. Patrick’s Day by Guinness, because it’s an Irish brand, so entwined in the culture and identity and international image of Ireland as to be inseparable and therefore allowed to plaster its name on everything for weeks leading up to the big day. We’re almost pleased to give our money to Guinness, feeling that we’re supporting an Irish institution. (Never mind that more Guinness is consumed in Great Britain annually than in Ireland, and Nigeria runs a close third.)

But Miller Lite? Is there a more blatant example of industry capitalizing on a sacred holiday? (Cue Coca-Cola Santa Claus ads.) The dudes donning the cheap felt bowler hats probably only cared that they were a) green and b) free. It’s not much different, I suppose, than shelling out $12.95 for a cheesy T-shirt just so that I can look like everyone else walking around the city.

I couldn’t resist asking for a picture when I spotted a group of twenty-something guys in identical polyester leprechaun suits, complete with hideous fake beards. There were a dozen of them in all, and I asked where they were from.

“We’re from England.”

“England! What are you doing dressing up as leprechauns on St. Patrick’s Day?” I was outraged. Is this some kind of sick joke? Did they get on a plane and come here just to poke fun at Ireland?

“Our parents are all from Ireland.” Oh. More Irish than me, that’s for sure.

“So you’re all British, but your parents are Irish.”

“No!” interjected another leprechaun. “We’re not British; we’re English.”

“Yeah,” said the first. “That’s like calling you Canadian.”

Point taken. I wonder if New York is the only place that Englishmen can celebrate their Irish heritage freely. And do they call themselves Irish English? Doubtful. Irish American sounds much cooler anyway.

The most poignant moment of the night was accidental and not fully realized until I saw this picture.

As the nice British - sorry, English - lads posed with me, a man staggered into the frame and displayed his homeless guy old standard: the “honest” cardboard sign declaring that he just wants a beer. It must work just as well as a sign asking for food, and surely gets a good-natured laugh with the extra change and cheers from drunk kids who empty their wallets. At first I was annoyed that my quintessential photo op was marred by this guileless ragamuffin, but when I saw the picture, I realized that he epitomized the entire experience.

In the end, he’s exactly right. Why lie? We all just wanted a beer.