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How to Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day Like an Irish Pub Landlord

Dublin-born Oisín Rogers of The Guinea Grill, a longstanding pub in London’s Mayfair, starts his Paddy’s Day with oysters and Guinness, before moving onto stew and unexpected singing.

by Oisín Rogers
16 March 2018, 11:00am

This article originally appeared on MUNCHIES in March 2017.

I was brought up in Dublin and only came to London for the weekend in 1989 to see a friend, but I ended getting a job in a bar on Saturday and I never went back. Within a year or so, I had my own place working for one of the big breweries and I stayed working for the big pub companies ever since. I currently work for Young's, who've owned The Guinea Grill since 1880. They appointed me here about a year ago and I'm loving it.

I think the whole hospitality thing is very linked to Irishness. It's really about contact with lots of people and having a focal point where friends and acquaintances can meet. It's about having fun and living together in a social way.

St. Patrick's Day is a great day for me as an Irishman and I think for all of the Irish community in London. Since I've been here in '89, England is a great place to live and I feel absolutely a Londoner now. But I think St. Patrick's Day does bring back memories of home, music, culture, fun, and a couple of pints of Guinness and some wonderful food. All of those things are very important on St. Patrick's Day.

For the last four or five years, I've been invited to Richard Corrigan's breakfast at Corrigan's Mayfair, which is famously fantastic. He really has cemented his position as godfather of the Irish community in the food and drink world. All of the chefs and the hospitality people and a few actors and the odd person that you wouldn't expect (Liam Neeson was there a couple of years ago) are there. At about half nine in the morning, it's very discombobulating to walk into a restaurant where he's got oysters all laid out and Guinness flowing and Champagne for everybody. There are guys playing guitars and banjos and fiddles, and there's shamrock (which is impossible to get hold of, by the way). It really is quite a spectacle.

The Guinea Grill in London's Mayfair. Photo courtesy The Guinea Grill, Young's.

There's always a fella who you wouldn't expect to sing a song who'll crack one out. I did last year, actually! At the end of the Corrigan's breakfast, I sang "The Auld Triangle" and the whole of the restaurant joined in. It was quite a funny thing because I don't think anyone was expecting me to sing. I certainly wasn't! There's always the potential for a bit of singing on St. Patrick's Day. I think we have a carte blanche to burst into song at any time.

It's a great start to the day and I always have lunch afterwards with a few mates. This year, because the Guinea is a ten-minute walk away from Corrigan's, I'll be there from about a quarter to 12. I've got some musicians arriving at about 12 o'clock to sit in the corner and play a few tunes.

The Guinea is very famous for what it has done for 60-odd years, so we don't change the food too much but there will be an Irish stew on, which I'll make myself. It's a very simple stew—all the off-cuts of the beef braised overnight with lots of carrots, potatoes, and really strong gravy. You've got to cook it overnight so it's ready for the morning. It's actually my grandmother's recipe that she taught me when I was a kid. She was a wonderful cook from the west of Ireland. It keeps people going for the day.

I like to take it a little easy during the day, because it's about fun and hospitality and frivolity. And lots of people can't get out during the day, so lots of my friends will be finishing work around 5 or 6 o'clock and they'll pop round the pub for a pint then. One needs to be lively and make sure that the pub is run absolutely brilliantly. I expect to have a very busy day!

The pub is full of history and the bar itself is really tiny. Even if there are only ten people in, it feels quite full and there's a great feeling of everyone in together and having a laugh. People get introduced to each other and and fun. That's really what St. Patrick's Day is about—people getting to know each other and spending time together and having the craic.

One time we were entertaining a group of eight Catholic priests and they came dressed in their altar gear. You had these priests head-to-toe in black and wearing their collars, drinking pints of Guinness (looking a bit like the pints of Guinness!)

I've got a couple of Irish dancers coming down in the afternoon as well to do a little jig in the pub. With the wooden floor and the hard shoes they wear, you get a little bit of "What the hell is that noise? Oh my god, look at that girl, she's brilliant." That's something I've done for years and years in all the pubs I've run because it's one of those things that's very surprising how brilliant it is when you see the dancing close up.

We're completely booked in the restaurant for service in the evening. I will be wearing my suit and my shamrock and I'll be on the door, greeting the customers as they come through. I like to do the door at the Guinea because it gives you the opportunity to meet everyone as they come through. I do the coats and make sure they have the best table, and then go and see them at the table when they're having their meal. At the end of service, I might have a couple of beers.

One of the things about St. Patrick's Day that always happens is that you have Cheltenham Festival [horse racing] happening from Tuesday to Friday. St. Patrick's Day this year falls on that last Friday and when that happens, there's the most likelihood of ballyhoo or shenanigans or some kind of unplanned catastrophe.

I used to run a pub very near Twickenham and you notice that England playing Ireland in the rugby on Saturday also almost always happens on St. Patrick's Day weekend. It's a continuation of that whole fun, frivolity, and a little bit of friendly rivalry between the UK and the Irish.

I remember one time we were entertaining a group of eight Catholic priests from all over London and they came into the rugby all dressed in their altar gear. So, you had these priests head-to-toe in black and wearing their collars in the pub, drinking pints of Guinness (looking a bit like the pints of Guinness!) and they were constantly being ribbed by the English supporters. They were saying, "Oh yes, Father Ted is here. Nice to see you gentlemen!" But they took it all in very good spirits and then we had the Irish dancers and the music on that day too. It was quite an extraordinary day! It's difficult to describe because it's all very emotional stuff for us.

Home never really leaves you. Ireland isn't that far away first of all and all of us seem to have a network of people we went to school with, or someone you know from home, or a distant family member, or somebody who knows the town where you're from. There's absolutely no doubt that food and drink also plays a part. I think the Irish community in hospitality, in pubs, and in restaurants has never been more connected than it has been in the last few years. It's something to really look forward to for everyone to be in the same place on St. Patrick's Day.

As told to Daisy Meager.

Before becoming landlord at The Guinea Grill, Oisín Rogers worked at Wandsworth pub The Ship and The Canonbury in Islington. He is originally from Dublin.

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