Toast Masters

Raise your glass at O’Toole’s annual Guinness Irish Toast Contest.

"Here’s to the Irishman that created Guinness, and here’s to the Guinness that created many
an Irishman." O’Toole’s Irish Pub co-owner Bill Comerford raises his pint at the pub’s annual
Guinness Irish Toast Contest.

Photo: elyse butler and matt mallams

The Irish may not have invented the toast, but many would say they’ve perfected it. Irish toasts combine a love of storytelling with humor, wit and warmth, and are always told with one’s pint raised in the air. “The purpose of a toast is to bring best wishes upon the group around you,” says Bill Comerford, president of the Friends of St. Patrick, and the co-owner of O’Toole’s Irish Pub, Kelley O’Neil’s and the Irish Rose Saloon. “Once upon a time, toasts were almost like sitting down to grace at a meal where people gave their blessings before they ate. It was basically a blessing of the drink before everybody shared it.”

Comerford is somewhat of an expert on the subject, having launched the Guinness Irish Toast Contest in 2003 (it also helps that he’s Irish). The Great Guinness Toast, a daylong event in which Guinness drinkers nationwide try to break the record for the largest simultaneous toast, was the inspiration for the contest. “[The Great Guinness Toast] was well-publicized in 2003,” says Comerford, “and a local radio personality that we work with, Bart DaSilva, suggested that we do a toast locally, so we took it to heart.” The contest is held at O’Toole’s on the third Saturday of every month starting in September and ends with the finals in March, when each month’s finalists return to give their toasts. The winner gets a trip for two to Las Vegas, finalists receive Guinness pint glasses and T-shirts and every toast-giver gets a free pint of Guinness. “Really, nobody loses because everybody gets a Guinness on us,” says Comerford.

If you’re looking to enter next year’s contest, or just want to impress your fellow revelers on St. Pat’s, Comerford has plenty of advice for giving a proper Irish toast. First, remember to include at least one, if not all, of the following: Guinness, beer or liquor; Irishness; and best wishes toward the health and happiness of your fellow man. Keep it short—people can only hold up their pint glasses for so long. Next, remember that presentation counts. It’s best to memorize your toast, so you’re free to make eye contact with the audience and the judges. Lastly, know thy audience. “A toast is to the moment,” says Comerford. “If you’re giving a toast amid soldiers, nothing’s more appropriate than for it to be a little blue. If you’re giving a toast to the Little Sisters of Mary, I think you would be very polite in what you gave.”

Having judged hundreds of toasts over the years, Comerford has his favorites. “I had a doorman long ago who, out of nowhere, came up and gave a toast,” he says. “He turned to the whole room and said, Here’s to all the virgins—thanks for nothing.’”

The Guinness Irish Toast Contest finals will be held on Sunday, March 14, at 7:30 p.m., at O’Toole’s Irish Pub, 902 Nuuanu Ave., 536-4138.