All stops for drinking on the Erin Express

For the most dedicated drinkers, Saint Patrick’s Day elevates binge drinking from a hobby to a profession. If you’re looking for an internship in work-day drinking, consider riding the Erin Express. Stopping at 16 bars

For the most dedicated drinkers, Saint Patrick’s Day elevates binge drinking from a hobby to a profession.

If you’re looking for an internship in work-day drinking, consider riding the Erin Express. Stopping at 16 bars throughout Center City and University City, this pub crawl will have you confusing rush hour for a drinking game.

My friends and I checked out the bus two weeks early, on March 3, or as it’s affectionately become known, “St. Practice Day.” The Express runs warmup rounds for the real thing on both weekends before the big day on the 17th.

Like pilgrims in search of green beer and Guinness, we followed fellow 20-somethings with homemade “Erin Express” tees to The Blarney Stone (3929 Sansom St.)

Along the way, swarms of police kept an eye on our behavior and were on the lookout for any potential drunken antics. The bar looked like a Guantanamo for drunks with a temporary chain linked fence detaining the debauchery spilling out of the bar and onto the street. I showed my ID, and five feet past the bouncer, I’d already lost my friends.

I pushed through the crowd to the bartender selling cheap 16-ounce pounders through an open front window.

Inside, an enormous swaying mob danced, each person’s beaded emerald necklace flashing in the sunlight.I searched for my friends outside and found them standing
uncomfortably close to a dance re-enactment of “A Night at the Roxbury.”

One friend turned to me, laughing, after gulping half of her lager. “I’ve never felt like I had to catch up with everyone at three in the afternoon,” she said.

“You need to get a Sam’s Club-size of catch up,” remarked one hopelessly inebriated eavesdropper.

After 90s hip-hop nostalgia forced uncontrollable booty shaking, and as the bathroom line locked arms in chorus to sing “Danny Boy,” it became undeniably obvious how sober we were. And where was the bus?

As I looked into the sky, a rainbow had arched onto the street behind us. Like something from a folk tale, a pot-of-gold-yellow school bus then pulled up. A full load of passengers stumbled off, most rushing for the nearest bathroom, the craftiest of riders having popped the emergency door to hasten the process.

As we climbed the stairs, a tour guide sporting a sweater vest, shorts and green knee-high socks offered $2 beers. “The beer guy is a [expletive] genius,” said one supportive passenger.

Although this could have qualified as one of my happiest moments, I wondered if it wasn’t also my most illegal. The bus driver, a refrigerator of a man in an Eagles jersey, enjoying a cigarette beneath a “No Smoking” sign, demonstrated this bus’s lawlessness.

A sticker above the steering wheel declared only four rules: “Get in, sit down, shut up and hang on.”

Unlike any school bus I’d ever been on, the bus route is decided entirely by the whims of the riders. Hilarious drunken debates ensued. “Let’s go to the Green Room! It’s a room. And it’s green,” someone yelled. “Drop me off at Smokey Joe’s,” begged another rider.So, what’s the fascination with the Erin Express?

“I’ve had this in my planner for three years,” one passenger told me. “I’m a big fan of day drinking,” said another. Getting past an intoxicated answer to my questions was all but impossible.

Noticing my camera, one passenger questioned why I was taking pictures. By the sixth time I explained it to him, he looks like he gets it. In front of Cavanaugh’s later at 119 S. 39th St., most people treated the camera like a MySpace photo shoot.

Unfortunately, every school bus also has its bully, and at Kellianne’s we happened to pick up the biggest pair of beer muscles en route. He swung from seat to seat hanging from the ceiling, pounding his chest and forcing open the emergency exit to yell mating calls at a crowd of girls outside.

Realizing someone had broken all four of his sticker’s rules, our driver, looking like a linebacker who drives buses during the off season, grabbed Drunky Balboa and tossed him off the bus. Entertainment like that doesn’t come cheap. On the Erin Express, it comes free.

Of course, the drinks on the trip don’t come for free. Some bars offer specials on “traditional” Irish drinks, but be sure to scope out the deals before you ride. You’ll be grateful later in the evening when you’re incapable of reading the bill.

Brian Kirk can be reached at

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