TAMPA — This year, Colin Breen is hoping for a little luck of the Irish.
Last March, the owner of the long-running Tampa Irish pub Four Green Fields was preparing for his annual St. Patrick’s Day celebration when he got news that his bar — along with every other bar in the state — would be forced to shut down.
The decision, an early attempt from Gov. Ron DeSantis to curb the rapidly spreading coronavirus, dealt a huge blow to bar owners, effectively knee-capping the industry on one of the busiest and most profitable days of the year.
Coupled with the financial setbacks dealt by the pandemic, including the months-long closure of his bars (and the shuttering of the Platt Street location in December), Breen estimates his business took a hit upwards of six figures.
But a lot can change in a year.
Breen, like many of his peers, is now feeling hopeful. With a widely available vaccine on the horizon and business booming from an influx of spring breakers and out-of-town tourists, Tampa Bay bar owners are banking that this year’s festivities will help make up for some of last year’s devastating financial losses.
“There’s no sense crying about it,” Breen said. “What’s done is done. Hopefully this is the beginning of better times.”
Good times appeared to be had by all who attended the St. Paddy’s Day extravaganza at Four Green Fields at Tampa’s Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park on Wednesday afternoon, where Breen and his staff set up picnic tables, an outdoor bar and stage. Two Irish bands, including one from Boston, would be playing later in the day.
Sitting outside on the bar’s fenced-in patio, Jessica Chiarito, 40, and boyfriend Shaine Mathis, 29, enjoyed a couple of beers while soaking up the sunshine. They said they took the day off from their respective jobs to celebrate one of their favorite holidays.
“It’s good because we’re still social distancing, but you can still have fun and be safe,” Chiarito said.
Being able to take advantage of Wednesday’s near perfect weather would help with crowd control and maintaining COVID-19 safety precautions, Breen said.
“It takes away the uncertainty and the fear,” he said. “For people who want to get out after all this time — it’s a really good time.”
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On the other side of the bay, the festivities continued, with a slow trickle of revelers decked out in green T-shirts and plenty of shamrocks filling the downtown St. Petersburg bar corridor on Central Avenue from 2 p.m. onward.
Outside Courigan’s Irish Pub on Beach Drive SE, the bar’s long-running block party was back after a one-year hiatus. This year looked a little different, with employees checking temperatures for every guest that attempted to walk into the gated-off area outside and some patrons wearing masks inside the bar.
Friends Penny Teabeau and Judy Ramirez, both 69, said they were visiting from St. Louis and taking advantage of a timeshare condo nearby.
Decked out in St. Patrick’s Day-themed gear from head to toe, the women said they both recently got vaccinated and were relieved to be out again, following a long winter of shutdowns and quarantine.
St. Louis, a city known for its St. Patrick’s Day blowouts and parades, was still under stricter COVID-19 restrictions, they said, and part of the reason they chose to celebrate the holiday in Florida.
“There’s less anxiety,” Teabeau said. “It’s a very good feeling.”
Despite being several drinks in, the women said they wouldn’t party all night. Instead, they planned on enjoying an evening in with Ramirez’s homemade corned beef and cabbage and some Irish coffee.
Over at The Galley, owner Pete Boland, who was also hosting a celebration at his nearby Irish pub Mary Margaret’s, said he had arranged for live Irish music, Guinness specials and a list of special Irish dishes at both bars.
Mary Margaret’s had been open for just a few weeks when the bars were shut down last year, Boland recalled.
“It was the scariest time,” he said. “There was just so much uncertainty. It was a morose celebration — like one of those 2012 end-of-the-world parties.”
Boland said he received some criticism for hosting people during last year’s holiday, and said he planned on keeping the crowds limited to 50 percent of his bar’s indoor capacity this year. He also said that many of his bar patrons at this point already have had COVID-19 and recovered or have received the vaccine.
“I think it’s okay to have fun responsibly,” he said. “We’re not going to be packing them in like sardines for awhile.”
Despite the deep financial blows dealt to his industry over the last year, Boland said news of the vaccine and what appeared to be a slowly retreating virus left him hoping for brighter days ahead.
“You look back — a year (ago) — and who would have thought that we’d had have a vaccine by now?” Boland said. “As devastating as the last 12 months have been — there is a lot more to be optimistic about.”