London faces its first actual St Patrick’s Day in three years

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For those in the cash business like Siva Markandu, St. Patrick’s Day will forever bring back painful memories of March 16, 2020.

It was crystal clear back then that the COVID-19 pandemic would have a massive impact on the bottom line, with far-reaching implications for months to come.

Bars and restaurants were closed that day.

“I remember that,” said Markandu, the manager of Chuck’s Roadhouse Bar & Grill on London’s Richmond Row. “The next day was St. Paddy’s. It was supposed to be the biggest night of the year and suddenly it was over.”

Last year, Chuck’s was able to open with a reduced capacity. But tonight Chuck’s and every other bar in London will be open with no COVID-19 capacity restrictions and no proof of vaccination.

The only COVID-19 related restriction in place this year is the requirement for staff to wear masks and customers to wear them when not seated.

“It’s business as usual this year,” said Markandu. “We expect to be busy and we’re ready.”

He’s not the only one expecting this to be the busiest St. Patrick’s Day in three years.

Warm weather could drive the party forward

Not only are most COVID-19 restrictions being lifted, the weather is expected to hit 18C in the afternoon. Customers, particularly students, may be looking for relaxation after a cold winter made worse by an Omicron outbreak that dampened New Year’s Eve celebrations.

“We open at 11 a.m. and we’ll eventually have lineups,” Markandu said. “We should have easily brought in 200 customers by the end of the night.”

Amy Montgomery at Joe Kools expects a full house by noon on St. Patrick’s Day. (Andrew Lupton/CBC)

Mike Smith, who owns Toboggan Brewing Company, Joe Kool’s and Runt Club, also expects plenty to do but said his customers will also be cautious.

“I think with the good weather people will be out on the patios,” Smith said. “But there will still be some COVID-19 warning.”

Some exercise caution on a sliding scale.

Lost Love, a downtown club, posted this video to Instagram on March 3rd. It shows unmasked revelers dancing in a packed club under title cards that read ‘Lost Love is Back’ and ‘COVID restrictions gone’.

As green beer flows and the tills ring on Richmond Row, a number of groups are calling for further caution, including:

  • London Police Service constant Sandasha Bough said police will have a “highly visible presence” on St. Patrick’s Day, particularly in downtown and student areas. She said police will be ready to deal with any problems, whether they occur at a drinking establishment or a private party. “Public safety is our top priority and we encourage everyone to enjoy themselves, but responsibly.”
  • London Health Sciences The operator of London’s two largest hospitals issued a message urging people to watch their drinking lest they end up in the emergency room. Over the past year, falls on St. Patrick’s Day have skyrocketed among those who went to emergency services.
  • dr Alex Summers Earlier this week, London’s health officer reminded Londoners that, much as we wish, the pandemic is not over. “If you go to a bar this St. Patrick’s Day and that bar is full, the chance of someone in that bar incubating or transmitting COVID-19 is essentially guaranteed,” he said. Summers added that anyone going to a bar should be vaccinated and wear a mask. “There is no such thing as a COVID-free zone when we are out with others, especially indoors,” he said.
  • Western University The school issued a statement saying it will offer “alternative programs” for students who choose not to go out. For those who do, the university is asking students to be careful. “We encourage students celebrating this Thursday to consume responsibly and take care of themselves, each other and the community.”
  • University student council at Western President Zamir Fakirani said that overall the students have done a good job of following the health guidelines and he expects them to continue until tonight. “I think the most important thing is that our students are able to build a community – because the pandemic has made that difficult – while staying safe in the process.”