The occasion, nominally, was the 75th anniversary of the publication of James Joyce's Ulysses. But, as everyone knew, what was really being celebrated was the complete Irishification of New York. Overcome, an emotional patron whispered: "It's very momentous." Adding: "I wish I could make it to Dublin for Bloomsday once in my life." No need for her to cry into her Guinness; never in this city's history has there been less reason to phone Aer Lingus - Dublin is here.
The Bloomsday epiphany was only the final convulsion of a pro-Irish rapture that has seized the city since 1990, when Shane Doyle opened up the beery music hangout Sin-E ("That's It" in Gaelic) and the New Irish pub phenomenon was born. Manhattan has always had Irish pubs - O'Lunney's, O'Brien's, Paddy Maguire's, Desmond's Tavern, Molly's - which were heavy on bleary-eyed wage-slaves, light on frolic, and usually about as Irish as French toast is French. But with the advent of Sin-E, accompanied by wildly Ireland-favouring new immigration laws, Dubliners have poured into this town and created a brave new pub scene, atmospheric in the extreme, featuring scuffed, oak-rich halls that could double as Bryan Friel sets, and a crowd made up chiefly of scenic Irish immigrants and their New York admirers.
As Michael, a barman who is an exile from London, explained: "I used to be hugely anti-Irish. Now, I'm loving them. They're like the English without being so bloody uptight." Michael, it should be mentioned, had recently undergone severe brainwashing, having spent the previous weekend at that most American of gatherings, a Fleadh Festival, where 50,000 New Yorkers convened to listen to Van Morrison, Christy Moore, the Saw Doctors, and Shane McGowan, watch endless jigs, down thousands of pints of Guinness, and buy bumper stickers that proclaim: "I Brake For Leprechauns."
On a typical day, a New Yorker can now toast the morning with an authentically artery-clogging fry-up at St Dymphna - a cafe dedicated to Ireland's goddess of sexual madness; hop over to the Dublin Bookseller's Company for a quick browse through the latest Roddy Doyle; lunch at the Scratcher, where the young owner has been known to personally tuck a sandwich into your outstretched palm; head off for one of several million readings and appearances by the Pulitzer Prize-winning Frank McCourt, author of the Limerick memoir, Angela's Ashes; then take in an off-Broadway Irish play at the Daedalus Theater Company, a Riverdance Broadway spectacle in midtown, a few ballads or bands at Arlene Grocery (Shane Doyle's hot new music joint) or just head for a movie. How about Stephen Frears' The Van? Or a video -- surely Circle Of Friends?