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How Does Beer City USA Celebrate St. Patrick's Day?

by Lisa Diggs

Let’s face it, St. Patrick’s Day and beer go together like Thanksgiving and turkey. It’s hard to imagine one without the other, which makes Grand Rapids quite a destination for Irish revelry in March.

The craft brewing industry has been on the rise in Grand Rapids for years, and has recently captured much national acclaim. In 2012, the city tied with Asheville, North Carolina in an annual online poll by to determine the nation’s top brewing metropolis. By 2013, Grand Rapids ran away with the title of Beer City USA outright, with nearby Kalamazoo placing second in the online poll.

With fifteen breweries in the Grand Rapids area, it’s easy to see why the city has become a beer destination, though it’s not just about quantity. Founders Brewing Company has built a strong national and international reputation for quality products, including recently naming its Kentucky Breakfast Stout the Best Beer in America. The website also named Hopcat the Best Brewpub in the U.S.

How then will Beer City USA ring in St. Patrick’s Day? Amidst frivolity at many local watering holes, the town will also play host to Michigan’s largest St. Patrick’s street party. Irish on Ionia is about to enter its fourth year. In its first year it drew just 1,000 people, and now is expected to drive 20,000 people into downtown Grand Rapids for a celebration of food, fun, music, and of course, beer.

The initial idea was reportedly to capitalize on lines out the door at McFadden’s, an Irish pub, each St. Patrick’s Day. The street party is put on by Barfly Ventures, the company that operates McFadden’s, as well as Stellas Lounge, Hopcat, and Grand Rapids Brewing Company. It comes as no surprise then that all four properties align the party area.

According to Shane Philipsen of Barfly, “This is a contained street party which means that there are no other bars that participate.  It's completely fenced off and makes this event private. Ionia street gets flooded with tens of thousands of green wearing celebrants from all over the midwest.”   

This year the festival will stretch from Oakes to Fulton, one block further than in the previous three years. That also increases the capacity to 20,000. Tickets, while still available, may be purchased from the participating bars as well as online.

“There is plenty of local Michigan craft beer that is poured along with green beer,” according to Philipsen.

The block party includes two stages with live Celtic bands and DJ's all day, a Shamrock, Paper, Scissors Tournament hosted by Todd Chance of MLIVE, an Irish -inspired food court, street performers, and a long list of Irish merchants. Even the mayor and city commissioners will be coming out to kick off the event.

Festivities run from 7AM until 11PM with highlights that include:  

  7:00AM – Kegs & Eggs inside McFadden’s
10:00AM – Tallymore
12:00PM – Peat in the Creel
  2:00PM – Paddy’s Cure
  3:30PM – Arden Academy of Irish Dance
  4:45PM – The Billies
  6:45PM – The Tosspints 
  8:45PM – The Waxies
Irish on Ionia is set to be Beer City USA’s biggest celebration of the world’s greenest holiday.

Philipsen says, “Grand Rapidians love St. Patrick’s Day and all come out and play. This is their party.” 


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