At 9 a.m. Tuesday, Browne’s Irish Marketplace in Westport was packed with people wearing emerald green T-shirts, scarves, beads, buttons and tutus.
Under the heated tent outside, a band played an Irish jig as customers tucked into hearty breakfasts of eggs, potatoes, bacon, sausage and soda bread. A bar sold pints of Guinness alongside Irish whiskey.
“I’ve been coming here for St. Patrick’s Day since 1977,” said Kathleen Henderson of Olathe, who wore a shirt armored with layers of declarative buttons such as “Officially Irish,” “Kiss my shamrocks” and “Lord of the beer.”
Since Kansas City started celebrating St. Patrick’s Day in 1873, March 17 has become a city-wide party that starts before breakfast and draws thousands of thirsty revelers. Kansas City has been ranked one of America’s 10 best cities for “partying on St. Patrick’s Day,” according to the travel website Thrillist.
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And Tuesday it lived up to that reputation.
Less than half an hour after opening its doors at 9, Browne’s narrow aisles were packed with cheerful people sitting and standing elbow to elbow. Strangers greeted one another like old friends.
Joe McStay, 87, chatted with Janet Stephenson, 96, who remembers shopping at Browne’s as a girl.
“I used to come here every morning and get a nickel’s worth of cookies,” said Stephenson, who lives in Brookside.
At the bar, Harrigan Gonegen ordered a pint of Guinness and reminisced about St. Patrick’s Day in his native Ireland.
“Up until the mid ’80s, you couldn’t even buy a pint on St. Patrick’s Day, much less have a hoolie like this,” said Gonegen, who resembled a leprechaun in his emerald suit and matching bowler hat. “I think it’s a blast.”
Behind the bars
More than an hour before the parade started at 11, hundreds of people staked out the sidewalks along Broadway with folding chairs and blankets. Jeanette Powers walked along the patio of the Uptown Arts Bar, beckoning people inside with promises of coffee, beer and bacon.
“I’m expecting this to be our busiest day of the year,” said Powers, the bar’s general manager. “I bought an extra two cases of Jameson.”
One block south, bartender Michelle Wyssmann poured “Irish Car Bombs” for patrons at Vandals Punk Rock Club. The dangerous-sounding beer cocktail starts with a shot of Jameson mixed with Bailey’s Irish Cream.
“You put that in half a pint of Guinness and chug it,” Wyssmann said.
In a room behind the bar at Kelly’s Westport Inn, owner Pat Kelly sat counting stacks of cash.
“We collect $5 at the door,” Kelly said, “and the bulk of that goes to Welcome House,” a Kansas City home for recovering alcoholics and addicts.
Along the streets
Just before the parade, Anthony Bolden and Jon Garcia ate cheeseburgers out of foam containers in front of Chubby’s on Broadway.
By the time the floats started rolling by, the parade route was packed with people standing five rows deep. Kansas City native Gillian Flynn, author of the best-seller “Gone Girl,” was the grand marshal.
Green hats in every shape and size obstructed views. Kids ate green cotton candy by the fistful and made bellowing noises with purple trumpets purchased from street vendors.
Onlookers packed the streetside patio at Westport Ale House on Broadway. Some were distracted when Frank Weaver walked by with his pit bull mix, Barkley, whose white fur had been tinted pale green.
“He loves attention,” said Weaver, of Kansas City, as Barkley soaked up pats from passers-by.
By 12:30 p.m., green clumps of people started drifting away from the parade and toward the blocked-off intersection of Westport Road and Pennsylvania Avenue. The sound of bagpipes and drums mixed with the thumping bass of Outkast’s “Ms. Jackson” coming from the DJ booth outside The Foundry on Westport Road.
Tori Crosby, 20, and Gina Drapela, 23, dance-walked through the crowds. Crosby, who wore a big green flower in her hair, said she turns 21 next week.
“There’s so much fun to be had, it doesn’t even matter that I can’t drink,” she said.
Victoria Morales and her friends Shanyn Herter and Lauren Horn meant to go to the parade at 11, but ended up drinking cold Bud Light on the upper deck at Kelly’s Westport Inn.
“We’re in power hour right now,” said Morales, 22. “Then we’ll slow down throughout the day.”
At The Foundry, the DJ-inspired dance parties continued with a mix that ranged from Beyoncé to the Beastie Boys.
Jeramy Palmer sipped a Crown & Coke and bobbed his head to DJ Snake and Lil Jon’s “Turn Down for What.” Palmer sported his Irish pride from head to toe: He wore a shamrock T-shirt, a scarf that resembled the Irish flag and bright green Nikes.
“My Nana is straight from Ireland,” Palmer said.
By 2 p.m., the streets in the heart of Westport were an emerald tangle of alcohol-infused revelers, bagpipers, dancers, food trucks and police officers stationed to manage the crowds.
In the middle of Westport Road, Steve Perry (“like the Journey singer,” he said) raised a bright green carnation in the air and spun around in circles. Then he stopped and started doling out high fives and hugs to strangers.
“Don’t stop believing,” he sang as he disappeared back into the crowds. “Hold on to that feeling.”