Tuesday, March 12, 2019

St. Patricks Days: Past, Present and Future

My friend Joe Freda recently posted photographs on his Facebook page of Rafter’s Tavern, his favorite saloon in his Catskill village.  Rafter’s, named after the men who navigated long log rafts down the Delaware River, has a bartender who makes a great martini. Its lounge has an appealing fireplace and a well-stocked bookcase. 
Seeing Joe’s photographs got me thinking about my favorite watering holes, the ones that are open and those that have closed.    

Farnham’s Larkin, on Albany’s Lark Street, is the most noteworthy of shuttered watering holes.
For 10 years, the Larkin served Dorothy and me outstanding meals and cocktails.  Alfie Macri owned the restaurant.  His son Paul managed the dining room, with waitresses, Mary, Josie, Lee and others - - and Mitch the bartender.   Mitch made the world’s best Manhattan.  He took the recipe with him when he left, and it remains, if this is a word, unduplicable.
These Manhattans look nice, but taste nowhere near as good as Mitch's
Joe’s photos of Rafter’s reminded me of the wellbeing we experienced when walking through the Larkin’s door.

I also write about the Larkin because we hosted a 1988 St. Patrick’s Day dinner there and it was among the best ever. 

After visiting Ireland in 1987, I was crazed about all things Irish.  When St. Patrick’s Day, 1988 loomed, I started planning how to celebrate what I like to call The Day. 
I was taken by the “Tipperary Hill” neighborhood in Syracuse which has an upside-down traffic light.  My friend in Syracuse, John Sexton, led me to the origin of this light. 

The upside down traffic light on Tipperary Hill Syracuse with a sculpture of
the "Rock Throwers" in the background. Photo courtesy of John Sexton
According to Syracuse’s Parks Department, in 1925, the Stone Throwers, a group of young Irish patriots, “refused to allow the green to hang below the red . . . as a sign of their loyalty to Ireland. After repeatedly refitting the broken glass, the City finally gave up and permanently put the green on top, for the world’s only green-over-red signal light.”

Albany may not have that traffic light. 
However, its residents celebrate The Day in outstanding fashion, with family activities, Irish foods, music and beer.  Albanians can also participate in two parades, in 2019: one in North Albany and a city-wide parade after that one.  My friend Steve Jaffe has attended many of the city-wide parades.  Of all of them he most remembers a past parade where “a large group of marchers carried crosses and other memorial items in remembrance of Bobby Sands," the young Irishman who died after a hunger strike protesting the British presence in Northern Ireland.    

In 1988, St. Patrick’s Day was on a Thursday, the same night the Larkin served a corn beef and cabbage dinner special.  With the holiday and dinner special falling on the same day, I made a reservation.  Our favorite people were there.  We had the only St. Patrick’s Day party with two guests named “Peter Douglas.”  Two kids contributed by crawling under the table and tying shoe laces together. 

Yet no guests tripped.  Everyone loved the corn beef, cabbage, new potatoes and carrots.  There were armadas of beverage for every taste. 
Alfie and Paul hosted many of our family events.  At a birthday party for my father, the cake was larger than the dinner party and my father shared it with fellow diners.

Once, a fellow diner gestured to a woman at nearby booth and described how she would be caught up in the excitement of Reagan Republicans.  He was deflated when we told him that the woman in question was Eleanor Billmyer, the neighborhood’s Democratic County Legislator. 
Stephen Dobyns, the mystery writer, had a night cap at the Larkin with Dorothy and me after he spoke at a Friends of the Albany Public Library Annual Meeting. 

The Larkin has been closed for over two decades.  It’s a loss but we have since celebrated The Day by hosting St. Patrick’s Day parties, going out to dinner, attending sing-a-longs or having an early lunch before the bars fill up. 


Our friend MaryEllen Papin gave us a sample of Irish whiskey last year.  In the photo above, it is displayed in better weather earlier in the year and in the photo to the right, another sample is displayed in the present weather on the one of the coasts. 
Whatever you are and whatever the weather, hope you have a great 2019 St. Patrick's Day! 
To my readers: if any of you were at the Larkin Dinner in 1988 and remember anything, or remember anything different, please write and I will update the historical record!


  1. My post focused on Albany recollections. But one of my readers wrote the following and it is a reminder that St. Patrick's Day is about more than the parties: "Although 88% Irish . . . a Sligo man (by heritage) I have not been a "practicing man" from the ole sod) however at this time of the year and with tales such as yours I and many others emerge from our obscure lives to claim proudly our heritage. We come from the down trodden, the oppressed the disadvantaged to this wonderful land of opportunity and by God we have achieved."

  2. This is so interesting... especially the part about the stone throwers, wow! Great pictures too!

  3. I remember the event with fondness and also the pleasure of meeting the other Peter Douglas.Once in a while we got phone calls for the ‘other’ and it was fun to finally put a face to the name. Also timber sharing other dinners with you guys at the Larkin - a nice place and an Albany institution

  4. Marilyn, I was hoping that either you or Pete would read and reply. Glad you liked the event as much as Dorothy and I did! And glad the two Peters got to meet.