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New York City has SantaCon. Tampa has Gasparilla. And Philly has the Erin Express, a daylong bar crawl between University City and Rittenhouse Square filled with dirty school buses and plenty of drunken disorderly conduct.
Legend has it the annual day drinking excuse started on a commandeered trolley in 1979, and only took a break in 2021 because of – well – obvious reasons.
The pandemic changed the traditional EE landscape a bit. College bar / Irish pub mainstays like Cavanaugh’s University City and the Blarney Stone closed, leaving other establishments to organize what’s basically an unchaperoned field trip.
Longtime participant New Deck Tavern picked up the slack, bringing together five bars for the crawl’s return.
“It turned into us reaching out to whoever we could remember was involved in it,” said Erin Parson, a co-owner of New Deck, which has been serving pulls of Guinness at 34th and Sansom since the 1980s. “Unfortunately, a couple of bars ended up declining out of fear of losing their outdoor dining.”
Case in point: Fairmount’s Hilltown Tavern pulled out at the last minute to avoid anticipated neighborhood pushback.
“When you have a bunch of young kids coming in, things get out of control. We’re trying to please our neighbors so we can keep our outdoor dining, ”Hilltown manager Adan Travers told Billy Penn.
It’s unclear exactly what kind of Erin Express offenses could get a streetry license pulled, and officially from Philadelphia L&I didn’t return a request to clarify. But the event is famous for leading to a spillover of public disturbances, like fights or puking or pissing in the streets (not to mention dancing on tables inside bars).
Aside from the new regulations around outdoor dining, the Express had a second challenge to contend with: a competing bar crawl.
Hosted by drinking experience specialist Urban Craft and Crawl and dubbed the “St. Patrick’s Day Bar Crawl, ”the other event spanned Philadelphia, with participants from Center City and Fairmount to Manayunk and South Street. Some bars, like Cavanaugh’s Rittenhouse and the Green Room, used to participate in Erin Express, while others, like U-Bahn, are new additions to the party scene.
Lucky for you, I just turned 21 and have a hard time saying no when propositioned with a day full of people watching and drink specials, so I braved both crawls to provide a vicarious look inside.
Without further ado, here is my (slightly abridged) journey from green-tinted hell and back.
After a light pregame of Barefoot wine and deciding between which of two green shirts I should wear, it is time to get started. Today’s goals are twofold: dance on a table, and return home sober enough to order a Wawa mashed potato bowl.
I opt for an Uber – which is surprisingly only $ 13, and explain to my boyfriend that, somehow, I know these two bar crawls are going to be incredibly different from one another, so we have to go to six different establishments. (This would end up sounding very stupid in about half an hour.)
We arrive at Misconduct Tavern at 15th and Locust to check in at event number one, the St. Patrick’s Day Bar Crawl. I’m not exaggerating when I say I am immediately miserable.
In the freezing weather, about a hundred or so tipsy revelers have amassed into two distinct clumps: one for getting into the bar to drink, one for getting into the bar to register and drink. The thing is, neither clump knows which is which – and neither of them are moving.
Someone is handing out wristbands with little shamrocks on them, but apparently those are the wrong little shamrocks and we should be looking for wristbands with bigger ones?
I want to scream, but apparently I don’t have to. “You can’t fix stupid,” shouts the man next to me before spitting in the street.
After twelve minutes of waiting in the angriest blob of my life, my boyfriend and I give up. We have no wristbands, but honestly, I’m not sure I want one.
We head across the street to Fadó, an Irish pub that could probably build a whole business model around collecting the casualties of other bar crawls. There’s no cover, and everyone in there is wearing the same five green shirts from Amazon.
We end up spending $ 33 on two beers and a weak vodka soda. My boyfriend gets to watch rugby, but I do not get to dance on a table. I hate it here.
We are back outside Misconduct. Only this time, I have a plan: I am going to lie.
After many minutes of shoving my way to the front to “find my drunk friend” (feel free to steal this trick next time you’re in line), we snake our way inside to register.
I grab my wristband and two free items. One is a string of generic green beads, the other is a headband with shamrock antennas. It’s very preschool party. At the risk of getting lice, I put it on.
We glance around at the bar, and find everyone is planning their next location. We decide to do the same.
After walking through – I shit you not – what feels like a literal blizzard, we arrive at the second spot on our crawl: Cavanaugh’s Rittenhouse at 19th and Sansom.
The vibe is very… distinguished frat house. There are lots of lukewarm whiteclaws and men layering shirts over hoodies (because of the cold, maybe?). The bar is playing Avril Lavigne, which is a nice touch.
I like it here, so I get drunk. I also ponder why anyone would agree to wait in line at basically 20 versions of the same bar.
The likely answer? Everyone else is doing it.
At Bonner’s Pub, nestled next to the historic 23rd Street Armory near Chestnut Street, we cross over to the second bar crawl: the real Erin Express. And guess what? It’s exactly like the other, competing crawl.
There are still adolescents getting turned away for using their older siblings IDs. There are still wingmen in green flannels trying to hit on pairs of disinterested friends.
Plus, this bar gutted all its furniture to make room for a crowd they vastly overestimated, so I can’t dance on a table here, either.
Bonner’s does have hotdogs and burgers for $ 2 cash, but I don’t have cash. My cheap St. Patty’s day accessories are not accepted as barter.
The bartenders sing along to “Come on Eileen,” and for one fleeting moment, I feel happiness. Then I have to pee.
A bus is supposed to come to take us over a bridge into University City, only it never does. I spend some time wondering if it’s a metaphor for something. It probably is, but I do not care enough to figure it out.
My boyfriend’s brother is nice enough to drive us to our next bar. In the words of scammer-slash-girlboss Anna Delvey, I feel “very VIP”
We arrive at New Deck Tavern, and the vibe is, again, very undistinguished frat house. They’re bumping Doja Cat, and the dance floor is packed, but no one has rhythm. Someone hits on me while my boyfriend orders me a vodka soda. This is when I decide nature is healing.
The DJ plays “Dreams and Nightmares” but no one sings along. Lame. I decide I cannot dance on a table here, and will never dance on a table anywhere.
I am all partied out and definitively anti-bar crawl. Why would you pay money for any of this when you can pretend to be in college? Or watch an episode of “The Jersey Shore”? Or go to McGillin’s on any other day of the year?
The thing about this new version of Erin Express is that it’s like the old one, minus all of the good parts. No one is angrily arguing or kissing someone who isn’t their significant other. No one is disorderly, and we’re all only kind of drunk. The thing that makes the Erin Express worthwhile is that you’re supposed to think it – or the actions its weird mix of bars forces you to do – are totally ridiculous.
Without any of that, there’s nothing to hate, so there’s nothing worth drinking to.
I am tucked in bed with a Wawa mashed potato bowl. My friend asks me if I want to go out tonight.
I don’t respond, and take a three-hour-long nap. When I wake up, my mom texts me and asks how the bar crawl went. I tell her that I think Erin needs to express herself better.
She doesn’t get the joke. And frankly, neither do I.