JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — St. Patrick's Day is usually a pot of gold for bars, especially pubs like Culhane's Irish Pub. One year ago, though, there was no luck on St. Paddy's Day.
Governor Ron DeSantis ordered all bars and nightclubs to close for 30 days due to COVID-19, canceling Culhane's celebration.
"It was the morning of and we were told to take down our beautiful, monster tent that we had at both locations it was so heartbreaking," co-owner Mary Jane Culhane said.
"We were even like flabbergasted at how quickly everything shutdown. We were told 50 percent occupancy, then, all of a sudden the party was over. We were so sad, but the whole country, the whole world was going through it, but we are in a better place today. We survived it," she said.
They used their life savings to survive, losing 80 percent of business, Culhane said.
This year's St. Patrick's Day celebration at Culhane's isn't as big as in the past and there are several safety protocols in place.
“It’s a big day for the Irish. We’re all from Limerick, Ireland, and we’re so used to celebrating with friends and family, and we can do it safely. There’s no need to stay at home today as long as you wear your mask clean your hands. We can do this safely," Culhane said.
All tables inside and outside are six feet apart. Plates and utensils are disposable. There are sanitizing stations throughout the pub and outside. Masks are required when anyone walks in the pub. Social distancing is also enforced with security guards walking around the pub.
"We're very, very vigilant about keeping six feet apart from strangers," she said.
Several customers said they appreciated the protocols and felt safe.
"I think it's safe, I do," Gail Morse, who attended with her friends, said. "I think when you're outdoors it's a lot safer than being indoors. That's why we're sitting out," Morse said.
Jennie Breitigan came down to visit her friend Lynn McGowan from Pennsylvania. Both have gotten the COVID-19 vaccine.
"For me, being in PA, St. Patrick's Day was the last time I was out with friends and celebrated," Breitigan said.
“I do feel like there is a gradual return to normalcy that we’re slowly but surely getting there. People are getting immunized. It’s all headed in a positive direction," she said. "I do feel that very much so. [We] still need to practice common sense," Breitigan said.
Kevin Byrne and his girlfriend also attended the event. He is visiting from Michigan.
"It’s just nice to come out and celebrate St. Patrick's Day and hang out and have fun," he said.
"To see people being able to come out and be together and celebrate after being stuck in the house for so long, it's a great feeling being able to see that," Byrne said.
By around 5:30, the line to get in grew and stretched the length of the building. There was a two hour wait, according to Culhane, because the pub met its 300 person capacity inside and 100 person capacity inside.
Culhane said moving forward for months to come, they'll continue to keep staff certified in COVID training, make sure everything is sanitized all the time and make sure people and tables are socially distanced.