To paraphrase a best-selling book from John Berendt, New Year’s Eve on Madison Street could be characterized through the years as “Midnight in the Beer Garden of Good and Evil.”
In reality though, merriment clearly tends to trump occasional mischief during the long-standing Madison Street tradition thanks to a collaborative effort between the bar owners and police department of Forest Park.
Annually, the village offers liquor establishments the chance to stay open till 6 a.m. with the following provisions: by village ordinance, bars are required to close their doors at 3 a.m. and turn off their exterior lights. The extended hours, which also are available on Thanksgiving and St. Patrick’s Day if they fall on a weekday, allow patrons a few extra hours to keep the party going.
“As long as the police department is notified by Dec. 30, a bar can take advantage of the extended hours,” Sally Cody, an administrative assistant to the mayor, said. “We’re fortunate because we really have not had many problems with our taverns.”
While recent New Year’s Eve celebrations may not be quite as wild or colorful as the free-wheeling “good old days” of the past, according to several soiree veterans, unusual or funny stories amassed through the decades are as integral to the festivities as a sentimental champagne toast or inebriated rendition of “Auld Lane Syne.”
“New Year’s Eve has a way of bringing out the ‘character’ people,” said Dave, an employee at Slainte asked that his last name not be printed. “I don’t know if it’s because they are trying to shun off what they have or they are trying to bring in something new with the turn of the calendar. Generally, everybody has a really good time. People tend to show mixed emotions of having fun and feeling sentimental.”
Speaking on a condition of anonymity, one veteran bar owner humorously recalled a dispute that thankfully never escalated into an all-out, uneven brawl for two.
“About five years ago, I was working the door and the place was packed when I saw this guy come in,” the bar owner said. “This guy had his hat backwards, a scowl on his face and a body by Superman, not to mention a gorgeous girl on his arm. All of a sudden, this kid who was skinny as a bean pole and had a little too much to drink picks a fight with the huge guy. They start arguing back and forth and I told the big, strong guy that we didn’t want any trouble. It turns out he was a lieutenant from the Marine Corps home on leave. He turned his head down and very politely said, ‘Oh no sir, I’d never do that.’ Then the skinny guy starts up again. Other patrons got involved, which is never good, and we are trying push the skinny kid out the door. He’s wedged in the door and won’t leave even though there were several people trying to push him out. Nothing ever happened, but it was a little dicey for a moment.”
Mike Martin, a manager at Healy’s Westside, remembers an unusual story about a slightly “mysterious” drinker with a penchant for routine. The guy came in and ordered a shot of whiskey, said Martin, and the bartender responded by asking if the stranger preferred a particular brand. The man’s response, “gin,” Martin said.
“The next year, the same guy comes in at the same time and asks the same bartender for a shot of whiskey,” Martin said. The bartender asked the same question he asked the year before and received the same response.
“He drinks it, pays for it and leaves, which was kind of odd,” Martin said.
While the Madison Street bar owners have varying opinions on the risks/rewards ledger of staying open till 6 a.m., all of them appreciate the option and praised the job done by Forest Park’s finest.
“We’ve never had any problems in regards to the extended hours,” Police Chief Jim Ryan said. “If anything, I find that it benefits employees who serve people and might want to enjoy each other’s company a few extra hours to ring in the New Year. We’ll have extra officers that will be looking for impaired motorists as well as monitoring the establishments that are open longer. Historically, New Year’s Eve has become a rather quiet night. In terms of some safety precautions, a lot of people get cabs, appoint a designated drive or just stay home that night.”
For the New Year’s Eve revelers that visit Madison, plenty of party packages will be at their disposal.
Doc Ryan’s will offer a champagne toast, party favors, drink specials, live music and midnight buffet for a $20 cover charge.
“We have taken advantage of the extended hours in the past, not only for New Year’s Eve but private parties as well,” said Brian Sullivan, who recently acquired Doc Ryan’s with his brother, Matt. “It’s really a management decision. We have long-term staff here who knows what to expect and how to deal with everything for special events so that’s always a huge benefit for us.”
Slainte, which stays open till 6 a.m. every New Year’s Eve, promises great music, food and drinks.
“We supply the music and alcohol and our customers make the fun,” Slainte owner Mary Buckley said. “Both bars will be open. In past years, our bar is three or four people deep and we can’t get the drinks out fast enough. Everybody is just pounding drinks leading up to midnight and well on till about 3 a.m., but then it tends to quiet down.”
While most bars will be open at least till 3 a.m., and a handful of other taverns plan to utilize the 6 a.m. option, O’Sullivan’s typically hosts private parties.
“We’ve never used the extra time on New Year’s Eve because generally by 3 a.m., people are ready to go,” owner Matt Sullivan said. “I think from 3 a.m. to 6 a.m., sometimes you can invite some trouble you don’t need. It’s still a nice to have it available. On Thanksgiving, we stayed open an extra hour because we had so many people and the night was going so well.”