Top 5 strategies Ann Arbor bars employ to lure St. Patrick's Day customers
Angela Cesere | AnnArbor.com
With the combination of the holiday falling on a Saturday and the warm weather that has descended upon Ann Arbor this week, many bars are expecting this St. Patrick’s Day to be busier than ever.
Jon Carlson, an owner of several local bars and restaurants, estimated Blue Tractor on East Washington Street in downtown Ann Arbor will be 30 to 40 percent busier than a typical Saturday.
Another reason for an optimistic outlook is that St. Patrick's Day coincides with the first weekend of the NCAA men's basketball tournament.
“With the great weather, it seems like people are coming out of the woodwork this week,” Carlson said.
Brent Hegwood, the general manager of Good Time Charley’s on South University Avenue agreed and added: “We’re expecting pretty much to be packed to the gills all day.”
To help draw customers and make the most out of a holiday that’s celebrated by drinking and eating, bars are taking different measures to ensure tables are crowded all day long. Here are five ways local bars are driving traffic:
1) Early hours
Like football Saturdays, plenty of Ann Arborites wake up at the crack of dawn to begin celebrating St. Patrick’s Day. To draw the early birds, some local bars plan to open as early as 6:30 a.m.
Conor O’Neills, an Irish pub located on South Main Street, will open doors at 7 a.m. -- the earliest Michigan bars can begin serving alcohol. But the line to get inside, said bartender Danny McCann, will start forming at 6 a.m.
Hegwood predicts Charley’s will also have a line of customers waiting to get in when the bar opens at 6:30 a.m.
“We’ve sometimes changed when the opening is,” he said, “but we decided rather than have people wait outside until 7 a.m. when we can start selling alcohol, let them grab a seat at 6:30 a.m. and sell breakfast to make sure everybody has something in their stomach.”
2) Green beer
For the first time in the restaurant’s history, The Original Cottage Inn restaurant is “going green” this year and celebrating St. Patrick’s Day, said Katee Cole, the restaurant’s events coordinator.
As part of the celebration, the restaurant on East William Street is offering green beer and other Irish drinks.
“In the past, we haven’t done anything for [St. Patrick’s Day] because we are an Italian restaurant, but this year, we are trying to embrace it,” she said. “We want to draw some traffic and since we’ve become an Ann Arbor staple, we need to participate in what the town is doing.”
3) Irish food
To try and capture the St. Patrick’s Day spirit, many local bars are serving up some traditional Irish fare, including Blue Tractor, Conor O’Neills, The Original Cottage Inn restaurant and Wolverine State Brewing Co.
The Ravens Club, located on South Main Street in downtown Ann Arbor, plans to serve corned beef and cabbage with local root vegetables and Irish soda bread, said co-owner Jeff Paquin.
“We are bringing our own select cuts of beef from a Scottish Highland heirloom breed of cattle that we purchased [from a farm] in the southwest corner of Michigan,” Paquin said. “We are giving the meat about three weeks to cure in the solution.”
4) Live music
Even though Wolverine State Brewery Co. isn’t located in downtown Ann Arbor, the west side bar is likely to be “pretty hopping” all day, said E.T. Crowe, the company’s marketing director.
Part of the fun, she said, is the live band that will be performing Saturday night.
“A band called Creole du Nord will start playing at about 8 p.m.,” she said. “They’re a lot of fun. They have a fiddle, accordion, banjo and it’s old time and Cajun music.”
McCann from Conor O’Neills said to expect bagpipers and Irish dancers all throughout the day, with a live Irish music band starting in the evening.
5) Outdoor patios
Maura Thomson, director of the Main Street Area Association, said that since St. Patrick’s Day typically coincides with the change in weather, the holiday marks the “kickoff to a great season downtown.”
Many bars plan to have outdoor patios open and expect the weather to be a huge driver of traffic.
Richard DeVarti, the owner of Dominick’s on Ann Arbor’s Monroe Street, said people flock to his business for some green sangria on St. Patrick’s Day, particularly when the weather is nice and people want to sit outside.
“It can be the busiest day of the year,” he said. “This year especially because the weather forecast is really good.”
Hegwood of Charley’s -- which opened its outdoor patio this week -- agreed and said, “We’re keeping our fingers crossed we’ll have good weather.”