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Coronavirus Could Be Devastating to America’s Irish Bars

St. Patrick’s Day is the biggest day of the year for many Irish bars, but cities are canceling annual celebrations

A parade float with a leprechaun holding his arms wide on a pink pot of gold at the Detroit St. Patrick’s Day Parade.
Detroit’s annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade — like many across the country — has been canceled.
Stock Detroit
Brenna Houck is a Cities Manager for the Eater network. She previously edited Eater Detroit and reported for Eater. You can follow her on the internet at @brennahouck.

All corners of the restaurant industry are being impacted by the novel coronavirus pandemic. But heading into the weekend before St. Patrick’s Day, few businesses may be harder hit than Irish bars which stand to suffer significant financial losses.

For many of these pubs, St. Patrick’s Day celebrations and accompanying parade crowds fuel the biggest days of the year. Businesses plan for weeks and even months in advance of the occasion, placing food and beverage orders and reorganizing staff to accommodate the high-volume of customers. Unfortunately — as part of social distancing measures to eliminate large gatherings and prevent the spread of new coronavirus — nearly all major St. Patrick’s Day events across the country have been canceled just days before they were scheduled to take place.

On March 11, New York governor Andrew Cuomo officially postponed New York City’s planned St. Patrick’s Day festivities — which annually draw up to 2 million people to Manhattan. The news sent many local Irish bars scrambling, Eater NY reports. Management quickly moved to cut hours for staff and cancel live music events. Patrick McNamee, co-founder of PMAC Hospitality, owns six bars in the city including Times Square’s the Mean Fiddler. He tells Eater NY that a typically St. Patrick’s Day week will bring in the equivalent of two to three months’ revenue and canceling the St. Patrick’s Day celebration will hurt. “It’s like canceling Christmas on us,” McNamee says.

In Detroit, where the St. Patrick’s Day Parade usually brings in upwards of 100,000 spectators to the historically Irish Corktown neighborhood, businesses are banding together to create an informal event and make the most of the holiday. Matt Buskard, owner of gastropub Bobcat Bonnie’s, estimates that the Parade Day brings in $40,000 each year. He had already placed orders for $15,000 in product to feed parade-goers, before learning the news.

“We can’t send liquor back, so we’re stuck with liquor. We can’t send food product back. For the most part we’re stuck with beer, too,” he says. “We don’t do our normal service, because it is so chaotic,” he adds, so the usual menu isn’t generally available on Parade Day. Bonnie’s also typically brings in more bartenders to handle the increased demand for drinks. “[The parade cancellation] puts us in a weird spot where we don’t know how many people are going to come.” Buskard also worries that if customers come in expecting a regular service and menu, they may be angry and disappointed.

Portland, Oregon’s events were canceled shortly after Governor Kate Brown announced a four-week ban on gatherings over 250 people. Paddy’s Bar and Grill, a venue whose celebration usually attracts thousands of customers, plans to shrink its tented area to comply with the ban, Eater PDX reports. So has Kells Irish Pub, which usually hosts a weeklong series of dances, boxing matches, beer tents, and parties.

Where some Irish pubs are bracing for a less profitable St. Patrick’s Day, some restaurants see opportunity. Eater Dallas reports on restaurants that are relieved not to be dealing with massive amounts of people guzzling green beer. “People aren’t looking for fine dining on parade day, so it really doesn’t impact us,” Rapscallion co-owner Brooks Anderson says. “I actually work as a front-door bouncer to keep the wasted drunks out, and had a dude try to fight me last year.”

Still, the delayed and canceled St. Patrick’s Day events are likely to have lasting repercussions for some establishments that rely on the extra holiday revenue, according to PJ Ryder, owner of PJ’s Lager House in Detroit. “The economic spin-off for businesses is going to be astronomical,” he says.

Irish Bars Grapple With St. Patrick’s Day Parade Cancellation [ENY]
Corktown’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade Is Canceled and Bars Are Worried [ED]
Portland’s Irish Bars Are Drastically Altering Their St. Patrick’s Day Event Plans in Light of Coronavirus Measures [EPDX]
Canceling Dallas’s St. Patrick’s Parade Might Actually Be Good for Greenville Avenue Restaurants [EDFW]
All Coronavirus Coverage [E]