Just as people donned their green hats, shiny plastic shamrock necklaces and “Kiss me, I’m Irish” shirts preparing for an evening of food, drinks and revelry on St. Patrick’s Day, Gov. Tony Evers announced that mass gatherings would be limited to 10 people beginning that night.
That was a significant reduction from his previous order of 50 or less, a result of concerns about the spread of the novel coronavirus.
On opposite sides of Verona, two corn beef and cabbage dinners had been set to get underway.
At one location, The Draft House Bar and Restaurant, 1010 Enterprise Drive, the celebratory crowd was already hovering just below 50 patrons when Evers made his announcement.
At the other, American Legion Post 385, the ruling on social gatherings stymied the dinner before it even began.
Tonya Patten, co-owner of The Draft House, still said “it was a great day,” and after she announced on Facebook that the bar and restaurant would be closing indefinitely after that evening there was an “outpouring of response of people coming and having a drink or sharing kind words, supporting each other.”
Patten had been serving corned beef and cabbage all day. She was sold out by 6 p.m., which she said was sooner than expected. At 2 p.m. she had still had 60 pounds of corned beef left.
Despite being able to still offer carryout under the increased social distancing restrictions related to the coronavirus, Patten decided to shut down The Draft House indefinitely after last call Tuesday, March 17. The disease the virus causes, COVID-19, was declared a pandemic March 11 by the World Health Organization
“We decided not to serve carryout past Tuesday, for the simple fact that we wanted to do the right thing to help people get healthy,” Patten said. “We’re taking this time to do deep cleaning. We’ll be stronger and healthier and give back to the community when we reopen. People have been going out of their way sending us messages of support. The generosity has been amazing.”
No Draft House staff are currently working, a reality that Patten said she hopes ends soon.
“It was the longest shortest week ever, and the ups and downs were emotionally draining,” Patten said. “Who knows what’s to come? The unknowns are the scary part.”
At the American Legion Post 385 on Legion Street, despite fears of the virus, 155 corned beef and cabbage meals were served between 4:30 p.m. and 7 p.m., down only slightly from the average 170 meals.
“We were already into the swing of things when we heard Evers’ announcement around 4 p.m. We had some concerns, we really encouraged people to do carryout,” said Stan Hook, Post 385 commander.
Hook said only 35 of the 155 meals were eat-in, 10 of which were workers. Hook said the remaining 25 eat-ins were spread out over the three hours.
“I’m really glad people did carryout; we really were pushing it,” he said. “We were down a bit for total meals served, but not by much.”
As of March 23, the Legion had canceled all immediate plans going forward.
That includes a membership meeting April 1 and a beef tip dinner April 8, which usually serves 140 people.
“I’m hoping this will blow over in a couple weeks and get back to normal. We depend on meals for revenue income, so canceling the beef tip dinner is going to be a revenue loss for us,” Hook said.
Hook hopes that restrictions will be relaxed in time for the Legion to hold its annual ham dinner in May.
“We can survive for a fair amount of time, but we may just have to cut back on what we do for the community,” he said.
Hook cited Badger Boys State and community baseball as two benefactors of the Legion’s revenues that might not receive funds this year as a result of the canceled meals.
However, he wanted to remind Verona whom the American Legion foremost exists to serve.
“If there are any veterans that need assistance at this time, that’s what we’re here for and we’ll do what we can to help them.”