Detroit — Hundreds packed Old Shillelagh early Thursday to kick off St. Patrick’s Day with big green hats, light-up necklaces and at least one bright-orange beard.
“It’s a marathon, not a sprint,” Woodhaven resident Maggie Murzin-Doty said.
Murzin-Doty, 31, was at the bar on Monroe in Greektown when it opened at 7 a.m., alongside childhood friend Mikki Wieckowski, also 31, as well as friends Shamus Clements of West Bloomfield Township and Jason Michaels, 44, of Westland.
Clements, 43, is the only group member with Irish heritage. He has participated in the “marathon” all-day celebration for about 15 years.
“What else am I going to do on St. Patrick’s Day?”
Clinton Township resident T.D. Coghill, decked out in all green except a bright-orange beard, said he got up at 4:30 a.m. with his girlfriend and daughter to make the trip to Old Shillelagh.
When asked why he made the effort, his answer was simple.
“This,” he said, arms extended toward the festive crowd. “We’re social drinkers and this is a social event.”
Early morning crowds at the bar were greeted by Mojo, Spike and Shannon of the WKQI show “Mojo in the Morning” set up in a corner of the first-floor bar as live bands played upstairs.
“It’s fun to be out, we like to be out of the studio and to meet the listeners we talk to every morning,” Spike said during a music break in the morning show.
The show has broadcast on St. Patrick’s Day from various bars 16 years straight, Spike said.
“But it’s always been a dream of ours to get to the Old Shillelagh. We wanted to come to the original Detroit Irish Bar,” he said. “St. Patrick is the patron saint of bad decisions, so we love partying with our listeners.”
Emcees for the show alternated between talking to callers and partiers at Old Shillelagh on Thursday, discussing St. Patrick’s Day plans and at one point giving away a free trip to Dublin in May.
The catch? Contestants had to burp on air. Best belch wins.
After several call-ins and two on-site contestants, the trip was awarded to Justine Kedzierski, who was at the bar Thursday.
The winner spent around 20 minutes awaiting her turn at the microphone, chugging pop and Red Bull. Her entry prompted immediate cheers from the gathered crowd.
“I honestly didn’t think anything was going to come out because I felt sick,” Kedzierski said after her win. “I thought I was going to throw up, to be honest.”
But Kedzierski had nothing to fear and the trip was hers.
“I’m really excited; I could cry,” she said.
Old Shillelagh’s early opening Thursday followed decades of tradition on the Irish holiday. By the end of the day, up to 7,000 are expected to make their way through the doors.
“We’re used to it. We’ve got it down to a science,” manager Angie Hunter said. “It gets easier every year.”
Another manager, Ian Davis, called the festive day “our Christmas.”
“This is what we gear up for all year,” he said. “Once a year is OK. Any more and I don’t know if I could handle it.”
Dooleys in Roseville was packed Thursday morning with an overflow crowd spilling into an outdoor tent as Dave & Chuck the Freak finished up their morning show inside.
The often crude morning show was a big draw to several early morning St. Patrick’s Day partiers.
“We got up at 4 a.m. and left at 5 a.m.,” said Toledo resident Deanna Gall, 22. “Now we’re going to go back, take a nap, then go out later in Toledo.”
Gall’s boyfriend, 24-year-old Steve Hamilton, is a big fan of the morning radio show. He came to Dooleys Thursday decked out in green, including a baseball cap featuring a sliding scale to measure level of intoxication through out the day.
“This is our first time coming out this early” on St. Patick’s Day, Hamilton said, his hat set firmly between “McTipsy” and “Lit.”
“It was 100 percent worth it,” he said.
Another group of Dave & Chuck fans sat at a table near the door after arriving 20 minutes before the Roseville bar opened Thursday at 7 a.m.
“We wanted the free T-shirt, the table and to see them live,” said Elaine Lulko, 58. “I’ve never seen them live before.”
The Roseville resident sat with friends Gerald Longroy, 50, of Waterford and LeeAnn Sarrach, 52, of Eastpointe.
The group often spends St. Patrick’s Day together, but plans often are dictated by which day the holiday falls on and whether the trio can get time off work.
This year, they plan on hitting at least three bars, Lulko said.
“We’re just going to make the rounds,” she said.
As a loud cheer erupted from the far corner of the bar, where Dave & Chuck the Freak were broadcasting, the three shrugged their shoulders when asked what had happened.
“Who knows, with them,” Sarrach said. “They’re crazy.”
Dooleys owner Frank Sgroi said he expects more than 1,000 patrons to come through by day’s end. The bar has opened at 7 a.m. on St. Patrick’s Day for around 10 years.
“Everyone wants to celebrate; its our biggest day of the year,” he said. “Turnout’s been great so far. Everyone’s in the spirit.”
One patron fully “in the spirit” was St. Clair Shores resident and bagpiper John Cataldo. The musician, who also plays the harmonica, piano, keyboards and guitar, came to Dooley’s Thursday looking the part in uniform and kilt.
“It’s just a lot of fun, keeping alive the tradition,” said Cataldo, who has played the pipes since around 1979. “The bagpipes are just one of the things that I do, but today it’s kind of special.”
At 70-years-old, Cataldo said he does not feel his age.
“Bagpipes keep you young,” he said.
Cadillac Square in Campus Martius was a flurry of activity at noon. Besides being St. Patrick’s Day, it was also the debut of the lunchtime food truck rally that is held weekdays through October.
Irish dancers, a DJ and a person dressed up like a leprechaun were among the lines of people grabbing lunch from Mac Shack and others.
Candace Cooper of Detroit was bopping along to the DJ in green from head to toe, from her beer stein-shaped hat to her Irish socks.
“My favorite part of this is seeing everybody enjoying themselves,” said Cooper, who says she usually doesn’t wear green at all.
Back in Greektown, with a line spilling out onto Monroe from Old Shillelagh, it was easier to grab lunch at the nearby Firebird Tavern. Owner Owen Burke said they expect to be busy throughout the day and into the night.
“We’re going to sell a lot of corned beef, a lot of Jameson and a lot of Guinness,” Burke said. He said Firebird, which opened in 2013, put a corned beef sandwich on the St. Patrick’s Day specials list two years ago and people liked it so much that they kept it on the menu.
“Having a blast, rocking it out, looking for the leprechaun,” said Kirk Snoek of Berkley. He said he comes to party in Greektown on St. Patrick’s Day each year with his wife Debbie Snoek.
This is the second time Judy and Dan Phifer, of Miland, have celebrated St. Patrick's day downtown. Judy, a nurse, and Dan, who works at Chrysler, both had the day off.
“We came for the feel of being down here. We enjoy this and we decided to come back — and (to try) the corned beef sandwich,” says Judy, after ordering a beer at the Firebird.
Melody Baetens and Stephanie Steinberg contributed