British Columbia

Subdued St. Patrick's Day expected as B.C. pubs ordered to stop selling liquor at 8 p.m.

Pub owners are favourably comparing this year's restrictions to last year's complete closures, and Celtic Fest organizers have had time to take their celebration of Irish culture online.

Pub owners are favourably comparing this year's restrictions to last year's complete closures

A man wearing a mask celebrates St. Patrick's Day in Vancouver as the pandemic begins to mount in B.C. in March, 2020. This year, pubs will be allowed to open, but only until 8 p.m. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

St. Patrick's Day is expected to be a relatively quiet affair this year in B.C., but pub owners and festival organizers are favourably comparing it to last year's abrupt closure as the COVID-19 pandemic's toll began to significantly mount in the province.

This year, restaurants and bars have been told they have to stop selling liquor at 8 p.m. on Wednesday, just like New Year's Eve.

For Sean Heather, owner of The Irish Heather in Vancouver, the occasion is something he's looking forward to after a challenging year.

It began with the news on the eve of St. Patrick's Day, 2020, that gatherings would be limited to 50 people and restaurants and pubs would be forced to close for the day.

Heather's pub had bought 20 kegs of Guinness beer and prepared 30 litres of lamb stew. He was feeding the stew to his staff and children for weeks.

"I've got five kids — so they don't eat lamb anymore, that's for sure. They've had enough of it. It'll be a long time before we get lamb on the plates again," he said.

According to Heather, St. Patrick's Day is still something his business relies on, even if it's subject to what he calls "managed expectations."

"It's usually a real boom for us, and things have been pretty lean over the last year, so we're looking forward to this day," he said, adding that patrons will need to make reservations to help keep everything orderly and controlled.

Nearby at the Blarney Stone, a normal St. Patrick's Day would involve a huge party.

"We usually close down the street, we have a lot of acts, probably 20-30 acts. It's takes us three months to prepare for it," said Brian Gobeil, Blarney Stone general manager. "It's a lot of fun, usually."

A man in a traditional Celtic outfit looks into a closed bar in Vancouver, British Columbia on Tuesday, March 17, 2020. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

The memory of last year's cancellation is still fresh.

"That was the first day that everybody had to close for the pandemic. We had everything ordered, thousands and thousands of dollars of product ordered, and we had to shut our doors," said Gobeil. "It took us a long time to get rid of that product."

So this year, he knows what to plan for, and Gobeil is keeping the day low-key.

'There's not going to be any decor'

"We have no acts or entertainment. We're basically just opening our doors," he said. "There's not going to be any decor."

Gobeil said he's still considering whether or not to serve green beer, and authorities have been watching the pub closely to ensure everything is done according to the rules — he was even told to remove an Instagram post advertising St. Patrick's Day at the pub.

According to the Vancouver Police Department, there will be extra officers working downtown to ensure public safety. A spokesperson with the department said they'll be giving extra attention to licensed establishments to ensure compliance, alongside health and liquor inspectors.

Virtual Celtic Fest

The Celtic Fest was another celebration that had to suddenly call everything off last year, but this year organizers have had plenty of time to put together a virtual event.

Eilis Courtney is president of the Irish Women's Network of B.C., which has prepared some of the festival's virtual sessions.

Courtney doesn't go for the green beer and plastic novelty hats that sometimes mark St. Patrick's Day. For her, it's a time to connect with family and friends, and share Irish culture and heritage.

She said the move to a virtual festival has actually meant it's accessible to people across the province, not just in Vancouver where it's normally held. Courtney has even managed to find a upside to the early pub closure.

"It will improve Celtic Fest in the sense that people will hopefully go home and they'll have drinks at home perhaps to celebrate and they can watch some of the Celtic Fest online," she said.


Do you have more to add to this story? Email rafferty.baker@cbc.ca

Follow Rafferty Baker on Twitter: @raffertybaker

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story incorrectly said pubs would be required to close at 8 p.m. In fact, they've only been ordered to stop selling liquor at 8 p.m.
    Mar 16, 2021 1:14 PM PT

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