In-person St. Patrick’s Day festivities are back on in Montreal for the first time since 2019, and with them a feeling of optimism and excitement for staff at the city’s Irish pubs.
For Rod Applebee, general manager at downtown pub Hurley’s, St. Patrick’s Day has always been a harbinger of good things to come. “The beauty of St. Patrick’s Day is that every year, everyone is so happy, because spring is here, and the weather is generally really good,” Applebee says. “This is like the kick-off to summer.”
The St. Patrick’s Day celebrations are being marked with live music and an anticipated full house — both inside and out. “Thursday morning, we’ll open at about 10, and then we have live music coming in the afternoon and they’ll play right to the end. We’ll be packed,” Applebee says. “Apparently it’s going to be 15 degrees, so we’re going to open up the front terrasse.”
The party will carry on through to Sunday, when the city hosts its first St. Patrick’s Day parade since 2019. This year’s parade will be a relatively small affair, with about 500 participants, no floats and a family-friendly slant. Hurley’s will be open at 8 a.m. for breakfast with Irish coffee before the parade, followed by more live music from noon.
All of this comes just days after the province dropped capacity restrictions, which Applebee says has seen plenty of locals — if not tourists — flocking back to the pub. “In previous years, we had a lot of Americans in, a lot of tourists in, and this year there’s not any.”
Still, between the dropped restrictions and the inherent excitement of the holiday, Applebee said he’s feeling positive going into his twenty-seventh St. Patrick’s Day at Hurley’s: “It’s like double the happiness.”
The closures that kept the lights out at the city’s restaurants and bars the last two springs meant that Hurley’s missed out on what has historically been its busiest weekend of the year, followed by the Montreal Grand Prix and the Osheaga music festival — events that will also be returning this summer.
Over at fellow Irish pub McCarold’s, owner Virginia Tiseo is also feeling optimistic — if cautiously so. “I don’t think I’ll be able to shake off the [feeling of] ‘Oh my god, it might happen again.’ We’re still a little traumatized. We’re living it day by day and taking it as it comes,” Tiseo says, adding that she’s just starting to feel like things are returning to “normal.” She says that, “For the first time, the bar looks like it looked two years ago.”
At McCarold’s, the celebrations will include decorations, giveaways, special Irish menu items, and the return of green beer — another feature that was lost to two years of restrictions. Like most Irish pubs in the city, McCarold’s doesn’t take reservations for St. Patrick’s Day, but Tiseo said she’s already had to turn away over 100 people who’ve tried to book.
At Montreal’s oldest Irish pub, Le Vieux Dublin, two years of restrictions have taken a toll that owner Johnny Asad is still trying to overcome. In Asad’s 42 years of business, 2020 and 2021 are the only St. Patrick’s Day celebrations he’s ever missed.
“We’ve been devastated,” Asad said. “Every time we shut down, we’d lose a tremendous amount of money, because of all the food, all the vegetables, all the beer. We carry 28 lines of beer. Once the kegs are connected, if you don’t sell them within a month, they’re all bad. And that’s like five, six thousand dollars.”
While Le Vieux Dublin normally offers a complimentary breakfast for St. Patrick’s Day, Asad has had to forgo the tradition this year owing to a lack of staff. But other traditions remain: “We have all the Irish beer, all the Irish whisky, and live music from 3 o’clock until 2, 3 o’clock in the morning. That’s what the festivity is all about,” Asad says.
Despite all of the hardship of the past two years, Asad is also hopeful for the future. Business has been slow to pick up during the daytime, but evenings have been good, and he’s eager to welcome back the government and bank workers that make up much of Le Vieux Dublin’s lunchtime clientele. “People are celebrating, days are getting longer. These are all good things,” Asad said. “And above all, we’re alive, which is the best news of all.”