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Irish Bars Grapple With St. Patrick’s Day Parade Cancellation

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“It’s like canceling Christmas on us,” one bar owner says as New York City joins Boston, Chicago, and Philadelphia in canceling their St. Patrick’s Day parades

Thousands of people lined up on Fifth Avenue, watching last year’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade
New York City’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade in 2019
Photo by Ryan Rahman/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

More than 250 barrels of beer that could go unused. Hundreds of pounds of brisket for corned beef that may have to be donated. New York City’s Irish bars are unsure of what to expect next week after Governor Andrew Cuomo officially postponed the city’s annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade due to fear of the potential spread of COVID-19. The holiday — and the week surrounding it — is typically the biggest moneymaker of the year for these businesses, several bars tell Eater, while the parade draws up to 2 million spectators into Manhattan each year.

The impact of a parade-less St. Patrick’s Day could be severe for local Irish bars. One owner told Eater NY that St. Patrick’s sales are comparable to as much as three months’ worth of revenue. As a result, some bars are now limiting hours and canceling live music, while staff worry about lost wages.

PMAC Hospitality co-founder Patrick McNamee — who owns six bars, including Times Square Irish party destination the Mean Fiddler — is prepared to cut operating hours and potentially lay off staff in order to stem the financial losses. On St. Patrick’s Day and the week around it, the revenue is comparable to “two or three months” of sales during regular operations, he says. He expects the Mean Fiddler in particular to be hit hard, as the bar typically attracts long lines of tourists who fly in for the celebration.

“It’s like canceling Christmas on us,” McNamee says.

Jim Gallagher, a manager at Molly’s Shebeen, a well-known Irish pub near Gramercy Park, says that the bar already ordered 50 extra kegs of beer for the festivities, and the kitchen narrowly avoided placing an order for hundreds of pounds of corned beef right before the announcement was made to call off the parade.

Paddy Reilly’s, an Irish live music bar in Kips Bay, had bands originally scheduled from 12 p.m. to 2 a.m. on St. Patrick’s Day, according to Lorraine, a bartender who declined to give her last name. As of Wednesday afternoon, programming had already been cancelled from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m.

It’s “a lot of lost money” for those working behind the bar, she says. “I can’t pay my bills on time.”

Some are tentatively moving forward with original plans, based on Wednesday’s guidance from the New York City mayor’s office that healthy people can continue to go out and eat. Many say they expect it to be like a typical business day, as if it weren’t St. Patrick’s Day.

Gallagher, of Molly’s Shebeen, says that in past years, the bar typically sees upwards of 150 people in the space at any given time on St. Patrick’s Day, from 10 a.m. to 4 a.m. But now, “we expect it to be just a normal day,” he says. “It’s a big loss for the owners.”

White Horse Tavern, which typically serves 300 patrons at a time on St. Patrick’s Day, says its festivities will go on, albeit with a quarter of its usual quantities of Guinness Beer and corned beef. Meanwhile, at Peter McManus Cafe, an 84-year-old Irish bar in Chelsea, owner Justin McManus thinks this weekend will act as a barometer of the impact that the cancellation and overarching news around new coronavirus will have on the bar. It’s been business as usual so far this week, but the larger tests typically start on Thursday and Friday, when McManus sees larger office crowds come in with corporate cards, he says.

Frank Gleeson, co-owner of White Horse Tavern in the Financial District, says St. Patrick Day alone can pay for three to four months of operations — but more valuable than that, it’s a time for New Yorkers to come together and celebrate.

“We’ve been open through 9/11 and Hurricane Sandy, but those times were different,” Gleeson says. “After the initial shock, all that people wanted to do was come together as a community. This is scary because it’s the opposite. You’re encouraged to stay apart.”

The parade, which has never been cancelled in its 258-year history, typically draws approximately 250,000 marchers and 1 to 2 million spectators to Manhattan, according to the governor’s office. “While the risk to New Yorkers remains low and we want to avoid social and economic disruptions, we have an obligation to take action to contain the spread of this virus,” Cuomo said in a press statement on Wednesday.

New York City now joins Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Detroit on the list of major cities that have called off festivities in light of the spread of COVID-19, according to the Daily News. As of Thursday afternoon, New York City had 95 cases, while New York state had 325, many of them in Long Island’s Nassau County and Westchester’s New Rochelle, according to a tweet from Cuomo.