NOVATO, Calif. - Irish food and green beer returned for St. Patrick's Day around the Bay Area.
It was not the boisterous holiday of years past, but still a big leap from last year when the first COVID lockdown slammed the door on any celebrations.
"It's definitely not what it typically was but it's much better than last year," said Dara Stone, General Manager of Finnegan’s Marin in Novato.
Finnegan’s entertained guests with an Irish pipe and drum band, and thanks to red tier status, diners could eat indoors as well as outdoors.
Staff was busy trying to turn tables over every 90 minutes, recommended so people avoid extended contact.
By dinner time, the restaurant had served 500 pounds of corned beef and cabbage and was down to its last keg of Guinness.
It couldn't be more different from 2020 when the sudden shutdown came the day before the holiday and left restaurants over-stocked.
"We had a lot of left-over food and we tried to be creative and do specials the following week," recalled Stone. "But when the food was no longer good we had to toss it, unfortunately."
More than Irish luck, it took adaptability to survive the past year.
Eateries had to embrace take-out and invest in patios that now seem like permanent features.
"I just kept saying, I know we're going to open, we're going to be okay," said server Morgan Shepherd at The Mayflower Pub in San Rafael. "I worked last St. Patrick's Day and it was just me, serving food to go and really sad so I've been really looking forward to this day."
The Mayflower was able to offer 60 seats, a combination of indoor and outdoor tables.
"People aren't coming just to drink and hang out, it's a little more of a family environment, people are just visiting with each other after not being able to do that," Shepherd said.
The Mayflower owner of 23 years also said he sensed a mellower mood this year.
"The kindness has been overflowing and it's a special day for a lot of people," said Tony Crafter. "There's something really nice about it because people love to be out and celebrate this day."
A big difference this year: last call comes when kitchens close, instead of serving alcohol without food.
That's according to California health order and enforced by state Alcohol Beverage Control.
So the boozy aspects of the holiday have been muted.
"No late night tonight, which is okay," said Crafter, "because it's been a great crowd. We won't miss the late night tonight."
Among those enjoying a Mayflower booth, a San Rafael couple celebrating their wedding anniversary.
"Every year we try to come in here," said John O'Neill, alongside wife Kim, each enjoying a pint of beer.
Their first date 17 years ago was at the pub.
They married on St. Patrick's day a decade ago, had their wedding reception at the Mayflower, and return every year on this day.
This time, Kim found a surprise at the bottom of her beer: an emerald ring.
"It's like finding the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow," she laughed.
With the pandemic easing, the O'Neills hope for no more interruptions to their Mayflower tradition.
"There wasn't anything in my glass though," smiled John, "maybe a bitcoin or something?"