Green beer will still flow in Chicago despite St. Patrick’s parade cancellations due to coronavirus concerns, but bars expect big losses


Chief O’Neill’s Pub & Restaurant on the Northwest Side has already spent $8,000 on an outdoor tent for Saturday’s St. Patrick’s Day celebrations. More than a dozen musical acts have been booked. A small fortune has been spent on corned beef.

Yet as parades and events have been canceled across the city due to COVID-19 fears, Chief O’Neill’s owner Siobhan McKinney said she is “hoping to turn a negative into a positive” by plowing ahead with all scheduled activities and, as as a nod to the virus that has been detected in 25 Illinois residents as of Wednesday afternoon, making thermometers available to customers to check, “How hot are you?”

“We’re hoping for a boost,” McKinney said. “For once, we’re happy we’re not downtown.”

As bars and restaurants reconfigured plans for one of the hospitality industry’s busiest days of the year, some, like Chief O’Neill’s, leaned into the situation, which includes the cancellation of at least three parades, in downtown and on the South and Northwest sides. Others scaled back plans and feared the worst.

“The cancellation negatively affects our business and our neighboring businesses because it’s such short notice,” said Megan Dailey, general manager of Mo Dailey’s Pub & Grille, which sits on the Northwest Side Irish Parade route. “With the parade expecting around 30,000 people every year, many of these items are paid for well in advance and geared towards these specific events. We’re kind of stuck.”

“There’s a lot of overhead, there’s a lot of extra staffing brought in,” she said.

Still, Mo Dailey’s plans to carry on with its weekend plans: “music, bagpipes, dancers, food and so forth,” Dailey said. She also expects to sell out of the green beer the bar brings in for the weekend.

“I can get a guarantee that will be gone by the end of the weekend,” she said.

To assist bars and restaurants that have stocked up on beer and liquor, the Illinois Liquor Control Commission took the extraordinary step Wednesday of allowing retailers, whether bars and restaurants or stores, “a one-time return of alcoholic liquor based on unanticipated emergency circumstances.”

Federal and state laws generally prohibit retailers from returning unsold alcohol to distributors, but in a letter issued Wednesday, the ILCC said it would relax rules to prevent “an oversupply of unsalable or unusable of products which could not have been anticipated at the time of the original order for such products.”

The biggest impact may be felt in the Beverly neighborhood, where the South Side Irish Parade had been scheduled to run Sunday at noon.

Bill Guide, co-owner of Cork & Kerry in the Beverly neighborhood, said the impact on his business will be substantial.

“(The parade) is a huge part of our business; the biggest day of the year, without question,” he said. “This is going to hit us hard, and it’s unfortunate.”

Guide compared the closing to the 2010 cancellation of the South Side Irish Parade. “They cancelled it back in 2010, and we probably did 15 or 20 percent of what we usually would do. We’re going to open; we’ll have a much smaller staff. We planned a breakfast for our suppliers that morning, but that’s out the window. It’s a shame. All viruses aside, it’s not good for the small businesses.”

St. Patrick’s Day parades are a big deal, but for local businesses, a cancellation could put them in financially critical condition. Mary Jo Viero, executive director of the Beverly Area Planning Association, said it’s not just the bars that are affected, but catering operations, small grocery stores and foot-traffic dependent businesses as well.

“I’m sure they’re going to take a hit and it’s very frustrating and unfortunate,” she said. “I’m going to continue to spread the ‘shop local’ message and try to encourage our residents to really consider where they’re shopping and what they’re doing this weekend.”

She said she’s heard of businesses who have already felt the pinch of a slowdown because of COVID-19, but is optimistic that the community will rally around its small businesses owners like they traditionally have.

“Because things are still uncertain, I think it won’t just be a daylong effect,” she said. “It could be longer and we need to be cognizant of that and continue to support in every way that we can.”

John Brand, founder of Open Outcry Brewing on the South Side parade route, said his brewery is still planning to tap its Dry Irish Stout on Friday ahead of the weekend, but staff and food specials will be scaled back. The planned corned beef sandwiches likely won’t be served and Open Outcry will serve its usual menu instead.

Still, he’s optimistic that locals will turn out and so will former neighborhood residents who moved to the nearby suburbs. He said parade day is one of the busier days of the year for his taproom, adding its not a crucial day as it might be some the Irish-themed bars.

“Folks down here are really passionate about the community and the parade; it’s almost like another holiday,” Brand said. “Generally, folks are understanding of why the decision has been made. They’re disappointed but they’re passionate about supporting local business and I expect people will still come out and enjoy themselves.”

Other business owners were largely split on their weekend prospects.

Kerryman Irish Bar & Restaurant plans to carry on business as usual, including the sale of wristbands and tables for Saturday. Live entertainment includes DJs, pipers and face painters, along with “an excessive amount” of green beer, Jameson and Guinness, according to one employee who asked not to be named.

Kevin Doherty, owner of Irish Horse Ale House on the North Side and Emmit’s Irish Pub downtown, said that as soon as Boston canceled its St. Patrick’s Day events, he figured Chicago would follow suit. Parade parties at both bars were canceled, corned beef orders were cut back and staffing has been trimmed.

“The situation is changing every day, so we don’t know what to expect right now,” he said. “It seems like every day there’s more rumors being spread and more panic being spread.”

Doherty said he is following the city’s lead.

“We’re going to have green hazmat suits for serving the food and drinks,” he joked.

Fado Irish Pub’s Saturday celebrations are still on, but the bar will open at 9 a.m. instead of the planned 7:30 a.m. Live music will begin at 2 p.m. and there will still be plenty of festive decorations and specials to promote the day.

“We’re reining in the event in some respects but hopefully there will still be some activity downtown. We’re keeping our fingers crossed,” said Kieran Aherne, regional manager. The events on Friday and Sunday will continue as scheduled.

Sweetwater Tavern and Grille in the Loop will still open three hours early Saturday morning, at 8 a.m., in anticipation of what was supposed to be massive crowds for the annual dyeing of the Chicago River. The only problem is that there probably won’t be a horde of people with the cancellation of festivities across the city.

Still, the specials will be on: corned beef poutine, a Reuben and shepherd’s pie.

“We don’t plan on changing any operations for the day,” a manager said. “We have direct orders from our company so we don’t have plans to change.”


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