Grab your finest green attire and make sure you’re parched as you won’t want to leave your seat once you get a taste of the homey St. Patrick’s Day experience at Ireland’s Four Provinces.
The man himself, Saint Patrick, is the patron saint of Ireland. Back in the motherland, the holiday was a serious affair where citizens got a day off from school or work and took a trip to church. Across the pond, the holiday’s American cousin was more about a general celebration of Irish heritage (and mind you, just a wee bit more fun).
And while St. Patrick’s Day is commonly seen as an excuse to imbibe well beyond the legal limit, in reality it’s a reminder of the Irish’s welcoming nature that infatuates neighbors and strangers alike.
“Irish bars were ‘Cheers’ before ‘Cheers,’” Colm Dillon, the Four Provinces owner, said. “There’s a line in that song, ‘Where everybody knows your name,’ and that’s what it’s about. You see them everywhere, and there’s a reason you see them everywhere: People feel safe in there and they feel like they’re gonna have a good time. It’s just the Irish hospitality.”
Chatting up guests and keeping them comfortable throughout their stay is the fun part for Dillon and Four Provinces’ staff.
But from a business side, preparing for St. Patrick’s Day – especially when it’s on a Saturday, making it essentially a four-day green-out from Thursday through Sunday (and that’s discounting the Irish pub quiz that took place last night as the weekend’s informal lead-in) – is their own annual Operation Overlord.
Accumulating the rations starts a week in advance when Dillon places orders for everything he needs for the celebration.
A refrigerated truck delivers all the goods, from triple orders of cod to satisfy the boatloads of fish and chip meals assembled during the Lenten Friday to the abundance of the best-selling corned beef and cabbage that will be gobbled up during the festivities.
Dillon even breaks off from his traditionalist roots by ordering in pre-peeled potatoes to keep pace with the starch’s high demand throughout the holiday.
Then of course there are the decorations. Streamers emblazoned with full glasses of Guinness and Irish-flag pennants are accompanied by kelly green wallpaper and heavy doses of shamrocks.
However, when it comes to the libations Dillon doesn’t need to get fancy because his customers don’t request it.
“Guinness by a country mile,” Dillon continued. “It’s a purist deal. And some people don’t even drink Guinness, but they’ll drink a half a pint of Guinness just for the celebration.”
By the end of St. Patrick’s Day alone, Dillon estimates that at least 2,500 pints of the famous beverage will be consumed by patrons.
And for those looking to enjoy some of the harder stuff, the Four Provinces can provide a select amount of premium whiskeys, including Red Breast or Green Spot Irish Whiskey. The fact that Red Breast was selected as the winner of a blind taste test the Four Provinces staff participated in during a trip to Ireland last September is probably good sign it’ll appeal to any whiskey savants in the area.
Dillon’s gotten the preparations down to a science in what will be his 35th St. Patrick’s Day on the job and 14th year as the owner of the Four Provinces. With each new St. Patrick’s Day he’s been thrilled to see how the annual holiday has evolved in the eyes of celebrants.
What used to be a festivity overwhelmingly embraced by Americans with Celtic ancestry (or who happened to be newly-immigrated Celts themselves) is now a holiday that encourages everyone to delve into the Irish experience.
Although there is one caveat with the holiday’s proliferation: More inauthentic, chain-based Irish pub competitors have sprouted up. In Dillon’s eyes, they definitely know how to run a restaurant — you know, feeding and serving people in an efficient and professional manner.
But the bones of the business aren’t fortified with the fraternal feelings of Irish congeniality that’s detectable in every independently-owned pub.
“[Independently-owned pubs] are character-driven; chains are corporate-driven. There’s a big difference since you just don’t get that same feel,” Dillon stated. “You don’t need to have the greatest Kobe beef, incredible decor and great service. That’s not what hospitality is — that’s just great restaurants. What we do is hospitality. We want to know how you’re doing, how your kids are and how your mother’s been.”
It’s a winning formula for Dillon and the Four Provinces. Starting tonight Metro area residents far and wide will be finding their way into a booth or bar stool at the Little City’s home away from home and likely planting themselves there for the next three days.
Before getting back to work, Dillon paused for a moment and tried to fathom what life would be like inside an office or elsewhere instead of the pub.
Luckily he’s so good at what he does, he doesn’t have to give that thought anything more than a chuckle before greeting his next guest.