Irish Pubs Attempt a Comeback After the St. Paddy's Day Shutdown of 2020

Nallen's is the oldest Irish pub within Denver city limits, and it's back open.
Nallen's is the oldest Irish pub within Denver city limits, and it's back open. Danielle Lirette
The luck of the Irish ran out last year on St. Patrick's Day, normally one of the busiest times for bars and pubs. March 17, 2020, was the first day of a two-month-plus-long COVID-based lockdown in Colorado, which closed restaurants to in-house dining and made bars that couldn't come up with some way to serve food strictly verboten. Just a few days earlier, Denver's annual St. Patrick's Day Parade had been canceled, though incautious revelers still packed bars in trendy neighborhoods that weekend (since social distancing and group- gathering rules hadn't yet been imposed in the state).

A year later, with most Denver restaurants now operating at Level Blue on the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment's dial dashboard, Irish pubs are making plans to douse the city in kelly green — but with an eye to public health and safety. Bars with no food service are still closed, but most have figured out ways to provide good grub to customers and meet state requirements.

Such is the case at Nallen's Irish Pub, 1429 Market Street, which was closed for much of last year but added a heated back patio to get through the winter months and is now back at 50 percent capacity indoors. In Englewood, the kitchen-less Mick Mullen's, at 3467 South Broadway, brought in QueLisa's Southern Plates last summer, so customers can get Cajun and Creole cooking from the catering company while enjoying drinks. And in Littleton, Ned Kelly's (at 5686 South Sycamore Street) offers food from nearby McKinner's Pizza and Grande Station. The state recently relaxed last-call regulations, so counties in Level Yellow (including Denver) can stay open until 1 p.m. and counties in Level Blue (like Jefferson) can serve until 2 a.m., but many bars are closing up shop earlier than that of their own volition, so call or check bar websites for the latest info.
click to enlarge Where Barricuda's once stood, 3 Kilts is now serving. - COURTESY OF 3 KILTS TAVERN
Where Barricuda's once stood, 3 Kilts is now serving.
Courtesy of 3 Kilts Tavern
One Irish pub had more than its fill of malarkey in 2020, but is now keeping the Guinness flowing while preparing for St. Paddy's Day. In June, 3 Kilts Tavern opened on the 16th Street Mall, in the former home of Back East Bar & Grill, but wasn't open long: The pandemic had sucked the life — and all the paying customers — out of downtown, so the pub shut down after three months and relocated to 1076 Ogden Street, where Barricuda's had kept the night owls and early birds happy for 25 years. Brett McNamee-Hooper, Kevin Hooper and Wayne Bard tried to get the beer pouring at 3 Kilts in November, but COVID restrictions quickly closed the bar and dining room before the new owners had a chance to welcome neighbors. Rather than limp through the winter with takeout-only sales, the introduction was put off until February 6, and business has been thriving since then.

You'll be able to see Irish dancers — from a distance — at 3 Kilts on Wednesday, March 17, and many of Denver's other Irish pubs will have specials and celebrations. But they'll all be subdued, so if you're looking for green beer, Irish nachos or corned beef and cabbage, you'll need to plan carefully.

Although things should be better than last year, it still won't be easy being green on the greenest day of the year.

Looking for more Irish Pubs? Here are a few more to help you get in the St. Patrick's Day spirit:

The Abbey Tavern, 5151 East Colfax Avenue
Clancy's Irish Pub, 7000 West 38th Avenue, Wheat Ridge
Celtic House Pub, 16522 Keystone Boulevard Parker
The Celtic on Market, 1400 Market Street
Darcy's Bistro & Pub, 4955 South Ulster Street
Dougherty's Neighborhood Pub, 5 East Ellsworth Avenue
Finley's Pub, 375 South Pearl Street
The Irish Rover, 54 South Broadway
Irish Snug, 1201 East Colfax Avenue
McCarthy's Sports Bar & Grill, 15350 Smoky Hill Road, Aurora
Scruffy Murphy's, 2030 Larimer Street
Sheabeen Irish Pub, 2300 South Chambers Road, Aurora
Slattery's Pub & Grill, 5364 Greenwood Plaza Boulevard, Greenwood Village
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Mark Antonation is the former Westword Food & Drink Editor. In 2018, he was named Outstanding Media Professional by the Colorado Restaurant Association; he's now with the Colorado Restaurant Foundation.
Contact: Mark Antonation