Article and photos by Radka Horackova | Mar. 21, 2021
It was March 17, 2021, and Irish pub and restaurant Molly’s Shebeen was flooded with customers eager to celebrate the vibrancy of St. Patrick’s Day, filling sidewalk tables on Manhattan’s Third Avenue, their faces covered with green masks.
“It’s the place to be,” said Allan Smith, who along with his sister, Patty Smith, have been coming to Molly’s since the 1990s. They waited for a table, planning to order the restaurant’s popular corned beef.
“It’s [Molly’s] an institution. We’re happy to support them,” said Peter Vonsimson, raising a glass of Guinness, while he and friends waited for corned beef and lamb stew.
The festive atmosphere at Molly’s was in stark contrast to its shuttered doors last year. Like thousands of other small businesses and restaurants, owner Peter O’Connell had to close at the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020 when the city went into lockdown.
Early on, when he was unable to obtain an outdoor dining license, he temporarily pivoted and used Grubhub for food delivery, but the earnings did not justify the cost of the service.
This year, he reopened Molly’s on March 10, just in time for St. Patrick’s Day, and brought back 50 percent of his staff. Two days later, on March 19, the city expanded indoor dining to 50 percent capacity, bringing another boost.
While acknowledging the hardship his business has endured, O’Connell said he believes that all the government measures to contain the virus were necessary. “Every society has a shared humanity that obligates us to take care of the fellow men,” he said.
His focus during the pandemic has been on applying for the federal Payroll Protection Program loans, which he received. And even with warmer weather, a vaccine rollout and relaxing social distancing regulations, O’Connell is expecting more challenges in the future, such as the rent and real estate taxes returning to their pre-pandemic highs.
He has seen his customer base shrink as residents have left the neighborhood because of COVID-19 fears. His wife, Sheila, noted that Molly’s also has lost business because two area college campuses – CUNY’s Baruch College and New York University – have been closed, with students taking classes remotely from home. A nearby hotel, whose guests used to frequent Molly’s, was temporarily turned into a homeless shelter.
On St. Patrick’s Day, the go-to dish at Molly’s, which has been a popular Irish bar and restaurant since the 1960s, was corned beef and cabbage, followed by Shepherd’s pie. The pub delayed offering food delivery until the week of March 22 due to the high volume of business on the Irish holiday.
Adding to the party atmosphere on St. Patrick’s Day was the surprise appearance of a kilt-wearing bagpiper, who serenaded the pub’s patrons.