On St. Patrick's Day, an Irish bar owner will reflect on a hard year — and share his blessings

·4 min read
Brendan Doherty is the co-owner of Old Triangle in downtown Halifax. (Elizabeth Chiu/CBC - image credit)
Brendan Doherty is the co-owner of Old Triangle in downtown Halifax. (Elizabeth Chiu/CBC - image credit)

From the pre-dawn lineups to singing the night away with a Celtic band, St. Patrick's Day at the Old Triangle in Halifax has become a tradition for some.

The Irish pub even has a saying for it.

"St. Patrick's Day isn't something that we organize, it's something that happens to us," said Brendan Doherty, who co-owns the family-run business that just marked 20 years in operation.

"You know, if it's not going to be fun, why do it?"

On St. Patrick's Day in 2016, some dedicated people started lining up at 4:30 a.m.
On St. Patrick's Day in 2016, some dedicated people started lining up at 4:30 a.m.(Craig Paisley/CBC)

That was the rationale behind the recently announced decision to close on its most profitable day of the year — for the second year in a row.

The move is aimed at helping keep COVID-19 numbers low in the province. At the same time, the owners have introduced a sick-day policy for staff who are ill but feel the financial pressure to come in to work for a day's pay.

Following public health protocols while welcoming a large and spirited St. Patrick's Day crowd just didn't seem possible, Doherty said in an interview Friday.

So instead of raising a pint at the pub, he's asking customers to raise funds for the Mental Health Foundation of Nova Scotia. The charity is holding a 50/50 raffle with a draw date on Mar. 17, St. Patrick's Day.

The cause became personal for him during the pandemic as he noticed his own "ups and downs" this past year.

Doherty, 27, was able to stay busy during the pandemic's first wave as he figured out how to move the business into a "new normal" with takeout operations, and a new patio.

When the first lockdown ended in 2020, Old Triangle staff followed public health protocols in order to reopen.
When the first lockdown ended in 2020, Old Triangle staff followed public health protocols in order to reopen.(Brian Doherty)

But last fall was tough. As other provinces battled a fierce second wave, Nova Scotia experienced a sudden spike in cases, forcing bars and restaurants to shut down again. Doherty's mental health started to wane.

He found he was staying up late, sleeping in and growing lethargic and listless. They were the first signs that something was amiss.

"I just noticed that something was off, to be honest," he said. "It really did open my eyes to the difficulties of mental health."

As a boss, he was able to take a day off when he needed it, and his mental wellness returned.

"I'm in a very good spot. I feel like we're on the end of this, I can see the light in the tunnel," he said.

Staff had already put up decorations before the decision was made to close on St. Patrick's Day.
Staff had already put up decorations before the decision was made to close on St. Patrick's Day.(Elizabeth Chiu/CBC)

It got him thinking. Doherty wanted to give his staff the same opportunity to get better — whether for physical, mental or family health.

The new policy provides three sick days a year.

For front-of-house staff who earn minimum wage, they'll receive $15 an hour in sick pay to account for lost tips. The program, which has a "substantial cost," is a rarity in the bar and restaurant industry, and especially now that it's been battered by the pandemic.

While "setting an example is great," he said this isn't about showing leadership. COVID was the catalyst to do something he and his family had long wanted to do — give employees a day to recover without worry.

"They really are family just as much as they are employees and we wanted to make sure that they were taken care of," he said while sitting in the pub's second floor which has seen little use this past year.

Live music was part of St. Patrick's Day festivities in 2016 at The Old Triangle Irish Alehouse.
Live music was part of St. Patrick's Day festivities in 2016 at The Old Triangle Irish Alehouse.(Craig Paisley/CBC)

Doherty isn't sure what he'll do on his day off, but during the pandemic he's been getting outside a lot more with his wife and dog. He's hoping for good weather on March 17.

As for the gathering that's famous for green beer and good cheer.

"We'll put it off one more year. Why taint [St.] Patrick's Day. We'll celebrate it when we're ready," he said.

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