Considering the small town just across the Hudson from New York boasts more bars per square mile than anywhere in the country, it’s no surprise the celebration has turned into a famous pub crawl. In recent years, the aggressive drinking has led to chaos, property damage, and, last year, sexual assaults. In an effort to take control of a city that started to resemble Gomorrah–and not in a good way–Mayor Dawn Zimmer cancelled the parade altogether.
Within about a week, a Facebook campaign titled “Lepre-Con” had enlisted 15,000 people to continue the bar crawl tradition. In response, the city government sent out ominous voicemail warnings and posted fliers threatening $2000 fines.
Curious to see whether the rule changes and the elimination of the family-friendly parade would dramatically affect the debauchery–and the desire to have a few midday pops without being labeled a degenerate–I decided to attend.
Walking down the previous parade route along Washington Street, I expected to see the town’s attempt at curbing bad behavior to be futile. Yet instead of drunken partiers staggering around in the early afternoon, Hoboken’s streets were littered with SWAT team trucks and officers in “Hudson County Rapid Deployment Team” jackets. Rooftop parties overlooking the street were no longer there. Store fronts were covered in police warning fliers and “no public restroom” signs. Sure, there were plenty of dimwits in styrofoam hats and oversized green polka-dot bow ties strutting down the sidewalk but the mood was rather subdued. Nothing tames a street orgy like a SWAT team.
I reached the first long line of the day a little after noon. Sadly, it had nothing to do with St Patty’s Day. Instead, it was dozens of sycophants waiting to catch a glimpse of TV’s “Cake Boss” at Carlo’s Bakery.
By 1:00, bars gradually filled up, starting with the Irish pubs. An hour or so after that, lines started to form at the remaining bars. By 4:00, most of the places were at capacity, except for a handful of bars that had exorbitant cover charges. Inside, it was business as usual: plenty of beer in plastic shamrock cups and plenty of Dropkick Murphys on the sound system.
Walking through town later in the evening, gone were the old comforting sight of passed out 25-year-olds propped against brownstone steps, sloppy crying girls being consoled by a pack of glassy-eyed friends, or Jersey meatheads puking into any receptacle they could find. (Such as crying girls.) Much like earlier in the day, cops patrolled each sidewalk and the revelry remained largely indoors.
I did see one arrest but I’m pretty sure it had nothing to do directly with the holiday: Two men in their late forties fighting over either a parking spot (or who had the worse haircut).
The next morning, I was pleased that nobody decided to replace our car antenna with a bendy straw (like last year). The sidewalks weren’t covered in broken glass. And, perhaps most glorious of all, walking to get my morning bagel wasn’t met with the overwhelming stench of dried vomit and urine wafting from the streets.
Sure, the police presence gave off a feel of a besieged city under martial law and families were let-down that a community tradition was scrapped, but the bars were full, drinkers were happy, and nobody was subjected to 45 minutes of bagpipes. Now if they could only do something about the Cake Boss groupies…