Closing Time Comes Early on St. Patrick’s Day

Wisconsin bars closed indefinitely



By Jonathon Sadowski

March 17, 2020

Governor Evers ordered bars closed indefinitely at 5 p.m. Tuesday, but traditionally busy districts were already deserted.

St. Patrick’s Day on Milwaukee’s Brady Street was an unusual sight. The corridor of bars, quick bites, and small businesses was absent of festive green garb, the Guinness was very much not flowing, and most “Open” signs along the quarter-mile entertainment corridor were dark.

And come nightfall, the scene wouldn’t change at all. 

Gov. Tony Evers implemented more measures to fight the spread of coronavirus on Tuesday, limiting public gatherings to 10 people, restricting restaurants to takeout or delivery only, and ordering all bars to close at 5 p.m. and remain closed until further notice.

While coronavirus hadn’t completely turned the trendy Lower East Side, home to the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, into a ghost town, it had certainly subdued it. People were still driving and walking around, but many were only making quick jaunts to and from their cars. 

Woman drives in Milwaukee with mask because of coronavirus
A woman drives down Milwaukee’s Brady Street on Tuesday while wearing gloves and a mask. Milwaukee County lead the state in confirmed coronavirus cases on Tuesday with 24 out of 72 total cases statewide. (Photo by Jonathon Sadowski)

One man scampered out of a liquor store with a pack of six-pack of Guinness — fitting, given the holiday — before quickly driving away.

Emily Kucek, 23, who lives just off Brady Street, was walking a dog down the main drag. The animal’s owners were on vacation in Mexico, so Kucek said she had stockpiled supplies for herself and the dog. The restaurant she works at shut down indefinitely on Monday, freeing up time for walks but also bringing feelings of anxiety.

“It’s kind of scary because there is no end date,” Kucek said. In the meantime, she is able to apply for unemployment and is fortunate enough to be able to dig into her vacation fund if need be.

She said she can also fall back on her parents in an extreme emergency, a luxury she acknowledged not everyone has

Green Fields, a gift shop and accessory store, was one of the few Brady Street businesses that remained open Tuesday afternoon. In the window was a sign saying the store was limiting itself to eight customers inside at one time. 

“We’re just trying to do everything we can,” said an employee who did not want her name published. 

She said business “hasn’t really been that slow, surprisingly,” but said the store was bracing for future restrictions. The employee said she holds a second job at a Third Ward restaurant that is remaining open for takeout orders. 

The restaurant is paying out the rest of the staff’s scheduled hours for this week and allowing them to claim unemployment, she said. Employees can also get one free takeout meal per day there during the outbreak, she said.

With bars and restaurants ordered closed Tuesday, residents in other parts of Wisconsin found other ways to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day than frequenting their favorite establishments.

Eau Claire’s Water Street is typically a throng of revelers on the day intended to recognize Irish culture, but on Tuesday it was nearly empty.

“It feels like a ghost town down here,” city resident Pat Martin said after buying beer at a liquor store.

Closing Time Comes Early on St. Patrick’s Day
Eau Claire’s Water Street typically is crowded with restaurant and tavern patrons on St. Patrick’s Day. But with bars closed at 5 p.m. Tuesday by order of Gov. Tony Evers, and restaurants allowed to offer take-out options only, sidewalks there were mostly empty. (Photo by Julian Emerson)

Eau Claire resident Julie O’Brien and her husband, Mike, enjoyed a traditional Irish dinner of corned beef and cabbage, accompanied by Mike’s special drink for the day, Tullamore D.E.W. Irish whiskey.

“Being married to an O’Brien, I can’t let him miss his special day,” Julie O’Brien said. 

Lucie Usher McGee and her family also had corned beef and cabbage for dinner, and her Eau Claire family sent Irish-themed photos and a video of her son playing an Irish tune to friends and family. 

“Trying to spread a wee bit of the Irish on St. Patty’s Day,” she said. 

With the pandemic most likely peaking in the United States in months rather than weeks, it’s unclear how long governments will keep social distancing policies in place. 

Back in Milwaukee, down North Farwell Avenue from Brady Street is rock music venue Shank Hall. 

The music venue’s marquee currently reads: “See you in April.”

Beneath that, in red letters: “HOPEFULLY.”

Julian Emerson contributed to this report.


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