A typical St. Patrick’s Day for O’Doherty’s Irish Grille during the past 29 years meant sending 60-some kegs of beer down the gullets of several hundred green-adorned patrons.
“Irish bedlam,” co-owner Tim O’Doherty said Tuesday as he reminisced about dancing, sing-alongs and a line headed out the front door. “There are always some diehards who want to be the first one in.”
O’Doherty said he removed tables from the restaurant so more people could fit inside. And the bar always closed two hours early because “nothing good happens between midnight and 2 a.m.,” he said.
But this year – with Gov. Jay Inslee’s proclamation closing bars, restaurants and many other businesses in light of the COVID-19 pandemic – Tim O’Doherty stood at the bar spreading “Irish cheer” to people who made takeout orders and acknowledging the sober reality of a St. Paddy’s Day without free-flowing taps.
“Thank you for your support,” O’Doherty said as he waved goodbye to a few patrons who contributed to the approximate 100 to-go meals ordered during the lunch hour.
“We’ve never not had” a St. Patrick’s Day celebration, said O’Doherty, adding how the lack of one goes beyond profit motivations. “This city has an amazing Irish presence and not getting to celebrate that is really difficult.”
After the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick canceled its 42nd annual St. Patrick’s Day parade on Saturday, a big crowd headed to O’Doherty’s, said Keats McLaughlin, parade chairman.
Food and drinks at the Irish restaurant on St. Patrick’s Day were always the climax of the Irish holiday, even when it didn’t fall on the same day as the parade.
“This is our night. St Patrick’s Day is the night of the Irish,” McLaughlin said. “To not come out and at least have a drink is hard for us.”
To make up for it, parade organizers are preparing to go even bigger next year, McLaughlin said.
Fifteen-year-old Chauncey Scheller, wearing a green hat with shamrocks atop his head of red hair, ordered a hot dog from a stand just outside the restaurant alongside his parents.
He said he enjoys celebrating St. Patrick’s Day by eating corned beef and cabbage “just because I’m Irish, never been a huge fan of the color green.”
Tim O’Doherty had to look back to the eruption of Mount St. Helens in 1980 to find any comparison to the effect COVID-19 has had on local businesses.
“The city froze,” O’Doherty said.
The eruption delayed by a month the opening of Milford’s, which O’Doherty co-owned, he said. People pondered the impact driving their cars would have, highways were closed and some debated wearing masks to protect themselves.
Now the old Milford’s location has some Irish spirit of its own, with O’Donnell’s American Grill & Irish Pub filling the building that sat vacant for more than a year.
The first-year restaurant was so busy filling takeout orders during dinner Tuesday that a manager wasn’t able to talk over the phone.
O’Doherty said he felt lucky to be a veteran restaurant with loyal customers, calling the closures because of the pandemic potentially “the biggest challenge we’ve ever had.” He said he hoped Spokane would help support new businesses that could be devastated by prolonged closure.
“You probably won’t see anything like this again,” said O’Doherty. “It’s going to be really cool next year.”
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