‘You Kind-Of Get Used To These Situations’: How O’Hara’s Continues To Survive In The COVID Era

In 1992, O’Hara’s Pub survived a devastating fire that necessitated a six-and-a-half-month-long gut renovation. In 2001, the attacks on September 11 happened about 400 feet from the bar’s front door, turning the space into a permanent de facto memorial for the 2,750 New Yorkers whose lives were lost. And in 2012, Superstorm Sandy left its mark in the form of about four feet of water stagnating in the building’s basement.

While a deadly viral pandemic hasn’t been easy on any of the businesses Downtown, you might say that O’Hara’s — a traditional Irish pub located at 120 Cedar Street — is better equipped to deal with disaster than most places.

“Not that you want to go through these things, but I think they kind of help you out in the long run,” owner Michael Keane told the Downtown Alliance. “You kind-of get used to these situations. It’s going to be a long winter here, but what can you really do?”

The owners of O’Hara’s have coped with the fallout from COVID-19 in the same way many other neighborhood spots have: by paring down the menu, setting up outdoor seating and bracing themselves for the ever-changing New York City regulations stipulating how bars and restaurants are allowed to operate during the pandemic. A neighborhood institution since 1983, Keane said that O’Hara’s has been buoyed by a supportive community of regulars who have come to patronize the pub even during the chilly winter months. 

“We have a lot of the neighborhood people coming over all the time,” he said, “and the construction guys have been great about coming over after work, and they’re keeping us going. There’s really not many people in the office buildings. Very few tourists are around, and now, with the weather changing, a lot of people aren’t in a big hurry to go inside.”

Like most other bars and restaurants in the city, O’Hara’s shut down temporarily due to the surge of coronavirus cases on March 16 — just one day before any self-respecting Irish pub’s most consecrated holiday, St. Patrick’s Day.

Keane and his business partner Paul Macken had already known that a shutdown was probably imminent, thanks to a 50% capacity limit the city had instituted a week earlier. Even still, the directive to close the bar’s doors just one day before its biggest holiday hurt. “We had gotten all this food in, beer for St. Patty’s Day, we were getting ready,” he lamented, considering how much immediately went to waste. “The amount of stuff that was just garbage after that was just heartbreaking.”

But O’Hara’s has proven itself resilient. Keane said that the potential of a looming second shutdown makes him worry more for his customers than the future of the tiny pub that’s already weathered many storms.