St. Patrick’s Day in Hoboken, NJ, comes early. Known (formerly) as “Lepre-con Day” to locals, it gets wild and crazy. Sometimes to unhealthy extremes.
Of course, St. Patrick’s Day can be a wild ride for all involved in most places. That wild ride in the name of the wearin’ o’ the green and drinking like a leprechaun or an ancient Irish hero isn’t always pleasant for everyone. St. Patrick’s Day can mean getting drunk and throwing up, bar fights, reckless driving…and assorted nightmares for local law enforcement.
While the mid-March tradition is supposed to be a joyous affair ushering in the Spring in the guise of America’s strong Irish culture, and for most concerned that’s what it is, St. Patrick’s Day is also a day when some people lose self-control or any reasonable sense of personal responsibility. And that’s what the city officials and law enforcement officers of Hoboken are anticipating for the 2016 event.
However, the St. Patrick’s Day celebration that Hoboken officials and police are preparing for isn’t the day of March 17. They are preparing for Hoboken’s own “special” St. Patrick’s Day Saturday, which this year takes place on March 5. This is “Lepre-con Day,” and for some people it begins fairly early in the morning and may last until after midnight.
This special St. Patrick’s Day Saturday in Hoboken isn’t organized by or even necessarily approved of by city officials. It’s the product of spontaneous, independent organization with roots going back nearly 30 years.
In 2012, tensions between Hoboken mayor Dawn Zimmer and the city’s independent St. Patrick’s Parade Committee led to that committee canceling its annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade. Up to that time, Hoboken had a 25-year-old tradition of holding the annual parade on the first Saturday in March to avoid conflicts of interest with other independent organizations and establishments that also held special St. Patrick’s Day celebrations. But as it was a weekend day, the Saturday of the parade (and the next day) more and more became a day for young people to throw wild St. Patrick’s Day parties, with lots of drinking and some of the unfortunately immature and potentially harmful or destructive behavior that drinking, partying young people are prone to.
When Zimmer requested that the Committee move its parade to a weekday to counteract a lot of the reckless partying and drinking, it refused. Its St. Patrick’s Day Saturday was too much of an established tradition and moving it was not at all a well-received idea. In the end, the Committee simply canceled the whole thing for 2012.
Furious about the cancellation of the annual first Saturday parade, many Hoboken individuals, bars, and pubs decided to organize their own “pub crawls” to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day — and keep the green party flame burning. “Lepre-con Day” was born.
But the extreme behavior that partly emerged from outrage has slowly but steadily been diminishing since 2012, according to city officials and law enforcement. Cooperative bar and pub owners who have maintained good relationships with the local police have been helpful in curbing the more outrageous and potentially harmful behavior. Police officers working overtime on Lepre-con Day have also been part of the solution.
In fact, since 2015, the name has officially been changed from Lepre-con Day to the “St. Patrick’s Day Bar Crawl.”
“There has been a huge drop in crime and quality of life issues and a reduction in public safety costs since the last year of the parade in 2011,” Zimmer said in 2015.
“We’ll be very proactive in trying to eliminate disputes. We’ll be attacking the quality-of-life complaints like drinking in public and disorderly behavior. We’ve already been proactive with the bars where we have our ABC unit visiting, doing inspections, and telling them what we expect on that day,” says Hoboken Police Chief Kenneth Ferrante.
The “special” St. Patrick’s Day Saturday in Hoboken is expensive for taxpayers. In 2015, approximately $94,000 got spent to pay police officers’ overtime salaries for the day. Still, what was once wide-spread insanity has largely become contained within an eight-block section on and around the raucous Washington Street section of the city. And if that containment costs some extra money, so be it. Because St. Patrick’s Day should be about drinking green beer and singing sad songs out of key…and not about getting a ticket or a ride in an ambulance.
[Photo by Mary Altaffer/AP Images]