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The Biggest Irish Breakfast on St. Paddy’s Day

From McSorley’s to Molly’s Shebeen and more

The Irish breakfast at Bluebell Cafe

A dilemma of today has been where to eat. I left McSorley’s around 11:00 a.m., having been at the Eater NY liveblog for a couple hours, a little foggy after a couple of morning beers, but still in navigable condition.

Heading up Third Avenue on my bike through heavy slush, weaving around taxicabs and parked trucks, I headed for Murray Hill, where I knew I’d find the city’s greatest concentration of Irish bars.

My first stop was Molly’s Shebeen. Opened in 1960, it calls itself the most authentic Irish pub in the city. Derived from the Irish word “sibin,” shebeen refers to a type of illegal whiskey sold without paying the English revenuer’s tax.

Festooned with banners in honor of St. Paddy’s Day, the exterior presented an irregular wood overhang and a rustic sign done by hand. Inside, it was dark, as befits a speakeasy. I asked the bartender — herself dressed in green — if they were serving Irish breakfast, since the place describes itself as a restaurant. She shook her head no, and directed me to a storefront two doors down called Bluebell Café. “We own that place, too,” she said, “and they have a good Irish breakfast there.”

From the outside, you’d never know Bluebell Café was an Irish eatery. Once inside, I found a rollicking spot filled with patrons wearing all sorts of St. Patrick’s Day attire, including an array of green hats and wagging green headpieces like antennae. The walls were brick and decorated with china tea services and other bric-a-brac.

The Irish breakfast was a bargain at $15, and I gasped when it arrived, soon after a steaming mug of coffee, containing a wedge of raisin-dotted soda bread, two eggs over easy, a thimbleful of preserves and a pat of butter, a small firkin of canned beans, a slice of tomato, three sausages — black pudding, white pudding, and a bulging banger — as well as several slices of Irish bacon, which is not the kind of bacon we get here, but more like Canadian bacon, nicely grilled but a bit pale, and a big heap of fries, more accurately called chips.

Who could finish such a breakfast? It was so obviously an ode to culinary abundance, a fever dream of agricultural fecundity on the part of an immigrant population that remembered its impoverished roots. Tragically, I was forced to leave some of the fries, which were quite good.

About five pounds heavier, I did a quick pub crawl on the way up Third Avenue to the St. Patrick’s Day Parade. I passed an average of two or sometimes three Irish bars per block, all lavishly decorated with flapping pennants, many advertising a certain Irish stout.

Even the Italian restaurants along my route were getting into the act, with one advertising corned beef and cabbage as well as shepherd’s pie. A couple of the pubs had taken the trouble to mount some more creative displays. One had a cartoon of St. Patrick in sneakers vanquishing a snake which was preoccupied with a beer; another featured leprechauns in basketball attire participating in March Madness.

When I finally reached the parade, which went up Fifth Avenue from 44th to 74th streets, it was a disappointment: There were no floats. The most interesting part so far has been the attire of the spectators.