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A Year After COVID-19 Scrapped Events, Peoria’s Pubs Gearing Up For St. Patrick’s Day

Kenny's Westside Pub in Peoria will mark its eighth anniversary on St. Patrick's Day.
Facebook / Kenny's Westside Pub
Kenny's Westside Pub in Peoria will mark its eighth anniversary on St. Patrick's Day.

For a second straight year, Peoria won’t have its traditional St. Patrick’s Day parade. But many of the area’s Irish pubs and other establishments still plan on celebrating next week.

A year after the emergence of COVID-19 scrapped most of the Irish-themed events and parties, some pub owners are anticipating a return to some semblance of normalcy.

“Peoria’s been known to have one of the largest St. Patrick’s Day parties in the Midwest, and we want to keep that tradition going,” said Pat Sullivan, owner of Kelleher's Irish Pub and Eatery on the Riverfront. “But we want people to be safe; we want them back next year.”

Sullivan said events at Kelleher’s start this weekend with the Blarney Blitz 5K on Saturday and a family-friendly “St. Practice Day” party on Sunday. He’s hoping to have bagpipers lined up for next Wednesday.

“We're going keep the crowds down to a minimum,” he said. “We're putting up tents, and we're trying to keep everybody as safe as possible, hopefully have a good time and see the brighter side of this pandemic.”

Earlier this month, the St. Patrick Society of Peoria announced its decision not to host the annual parade. Last week, the City of Peoria, Peoria County and the Peoria City/County Health Department issued celebration guidelines, reminding pub owners to limit occupancy to 25 percent of capacity, require face coverings and accommodate social distancing.

“We're just happy to have a St. Patrick's Day, first of all. We'll do our best to have a nice, socially distanced, kind of tamed-down celebration,” said Sean Kenny of Kenny’s Westside Pub, noting March 17 coincides with the bar’s eighth anniversary.

“It's a really important day for us, and it was really tough losing that day last year. This year, we're trying to do everything to have a celebration while not encouraging a large crowd. Luckily there's no parade, so that's going to help a little bit. And we are forgoing any (live) Irish music this year.”

Kenny said the pandemic's emergence and the related closures at this time a year ago was “the most devastating thing” he has experienced, so he doesn’t want to do anything that might bring about another shutdown.

“It was horrible, and I was extremely distraught about it,” he said. “I'm just happy to be open, and we're getting back in the swing of things, just trying to follow all the rules and do all the right things.”

In West Peoria, four bars are partnering for a day-long, socially distanced pub crawl on Wednesday. Touch of Grey Café owner Jason Miles said he and his colleagues from Mike’s Tavern, Tartan Inn and West Town Tap agreed a combined outdoor party would help patrons maintain the recommended 6-foot separation.

“We’re all in walking distance of each other, and so we all just decided to kind of pool our resources and do a little pub crawl with outdoor, socially distanced events at each of the establishments, sprinkling in some live music and some specials,” said Miles.

At W.E. Sullivan’s Irish Pub in Peoria Heights, the live music will be outside as well. Co-owner Lauren Blasek said they will have the street blocked off for extra space.

“We're going to be having staff walking around and sanitizing (surfaces). We're going to have tables and chairs so people can sit and socially distance, and then we're going to have clickers to make sure that we don't go over capacity,” said Blasek, who added similar procedures will occur inside the restaurant.

“We will not be allowing it to be like a regular party time because that's not what world we're living in at the moment. We will be still trying to celebrate and have a good time, but do it in a responsible way.”

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Joe Deacon is a reporter at WCBU.