It’s Christmas time on 45th Street in Manhattan, and three Bernie Riley establishments are hives of activity. She took off the masks, poured the drinks and the mood became cheerful.
At Merrion Row, the scent of Irish moss fills the moody-lit lounge bar as cocktails shake, while the rooftop bar in neighboring Connolly’s crams. This is the case everywhere else, including the pub next door, The Perfect Pint.
Scenes like this were unimaginable in the early 2020s during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic in New York City, when refrigerated trucks were used to store the city’s corpses, and the streets were deserted.
Nearly two years into the crisis, a number of Irish preachers have managed to pull a degree of success out of the ashes of 2020, on the back of New York City’s 72 percent vaccination rate.
I have Midwest Radio playing everywhere every morning during breakfast
Riley, who is from Caherlistrane, Co Galway, and runs nine bars and a hotel, believes « the darkest days are behind us, » especially as the bar business has adapted to some of the toughest Covid-19 regulations in the US.
Today, the business is so busy that he and many other people involved in the Irish pub business in New York are actively looking to hire employees, including people who now live in Ireland.
« There are always opportunities for Irish people to come to New York City to find work, » he says. “I don’t see that changing any time soon. I have always and always will find Irish job opportunities.”
Riley’s pubs have a strong Irish flavor: « I have Midwest radio playing everywhere every morning during breakfast, » he says. Because of that, we keep up with restrictions back home. «
Staffing is also needed by Mean Fiddler owner Michael McNamee, originally from Blanchardstown in Dublin, who runs six venues with his brother Patrick: “The hardest thing is finding employees,” he says.
When Broadway reopened in September, life came back to the city. It was like a light switch. American tourists are back and we saw a huge leap when Irish and English tourists were allowed back as well.
The two-week period leading up to Christmas was the busiest of his three bars ever, despite losing out on corporate Christmas parties that were canceled or not booked at all this year.
Instead, the increase comes from individuals: “The number of people is increasing because of the accumulated frustration with Covid, perhaps frustration with government rules and people who feel they lost last year.”
Further downtown on East 4th Street, trade night is in full swing at the Swift Hibernian Lounge, where owner Danny MacDonald, of Co Laois, nurses a pint of Guinness and talks with staff.
Before Christmas, MacDonald, who runs six establishments in its Gaelic hospitality operation, celebrated Hibernian’s 26th birthday — a milestone in itself, but another remarkable one in the midst of a pandemic.
Life here has evolved as a tenor: The outside area at Swift is like the pub itself, filled with cushioned seating, framed photos, dark paint, and a gas fireplace to keep the punter warm.
Trade has changed during the pandemic, he says, especially as customers stay out late because they don’t have to go to work in the morning: “This is new water and learning to navigate it will be fun.
“Cocktail hour does not exist… The biggest surprise is that a lot of the work is done after midnight. I find myself busier until 4 am.”
Like Reilly and McNamee, McDonald is watching Omicron, fearful of new book restrictions as cases soar in the city: « I’d hate to see more restrictions, but it all boils down to hospital beds, » he says.
« Spécialiste de la télévision sans vergogne. Pionnier des zombies inconditionnels. Résolveur de problèmes d’une humilité exaspérante. »