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An Irish Pub Owner Tries to Save His Bars While Working as a D.C. Cop

When Mark Kirwan isn’t delivering fish and chips, he’s working crowd control

Mark Kirwan is juggling police work and hustling to keep his pubs afloat during the coronavirus pandemic.
Mark Kirwan/Kirwan’s
Tierney Plumb is the editor of Eater DC, covering all things food and drink around the nation's capital.

The owner behind a pair of essential Irish pubs in D.C. and Arlington has stayed incredibly busy during the coronavirus pandemic despite the fact that neither business has hosted a single customer in a month. Despite his role as a restaurateur behind Kirwan’s on the Wharf and Samuel Beckett’s in Shirlington, Mark Kirwan has kept his job as a longtime member of D.C.’s Metropolitan Police Department.

As Irish outlet RTE News has reported, the Irishman’s work entails keeping crowds in check as social distancing protocols remain in place.

“Trying to make sure people don’t act out of line and follow guidance given to them by the mayor,” Kirwan explains. “There are people who still want to push the limits. For the most part, people are behaving themselves.”

Irish bar owner Mark Kirwan’s longtime side hustle.
Mark Kirwan/official photo

An MPD employee of nearly two decades, Kirwan is assigned to the special ops division, where his roles range from harbor patrol to domestic security. Dispatches over the past month have included breaking up soccer and basketball games and crowds flocking to the Tidal Basin to take in the cherry blossoms.

Kirwan says he shut down both of his pubs right before St. Patrick’s Day. To play it safe, he opted to close both on March 15, a day before D.C. implemented a dine-in ban to stem the spread of COVID-19. Both Irish bars switched to takeout and delivery before they had to; Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam didn’t close dining rooms until March 23.

“It bothered me some [Virginia pubs] did stay open on St. Patrick’s Day, out of greed. In my opinion, lives of staff and customers come before a dollar sign,” says Kirwan, who used to work in a Guinness brewery.

Now he’s cutting down his policing hours to concentrate on keeping his restaurants afloat. At the same time, he’s been dropping off free Kirwan’s and Samuel Beckett’s meals to local ER doctors and nurses, police stations, fire houses, and animal rescue alliances.

His restaurant group has matched donations taken over the phone to fund first responder fare, which he says have ranged from $25 up to $1,000. But contributions from customers are “drying up fast, unfortunately,” he says.

Fish ‘n chips were a hit during Lent, and continues to be the No. 1 dish out the door, he says.
Mark Kirwan/Kirwan’s

Instead of activating any delivery apps, he and his Virginia manager typically deliver orders of corned beef for free.

“We are a small two-unit operation — we are not José Andrés,” he says.

He says his colleagues in law enforcement have been craving comforting Irish classics. He’s taking carryout and delivery orders (noon to 8 p.m.) at Samuel Beckett’s and Kirwan’s on fish ‘n chips, flatbreads, chicken pot pie, and bangers and mash.

Despite keeping eight members of upper management on board to field calls and spread the to-go workload, he had to lay off 100 employees across both restaurants when the crisis struck.

“All my staff is family — to me I’m not looking at a number. It’s someone you treated as a son, as a daughter,” he says.

He says revenue from takeout and delivery is barely covering gas, electricity, and water bills.

“I’ve put all the savings I have into my payroll account to pay people working for me now,” he says.

Kirwan says he received an email from his Wharf development landlord Madison Marquette, promising to help relieve some of the tenant’s woes. “They are certainly working with us and ironing out details,” he says.

A “huge loss” for business was the postponement of last month’s Ireland at the Wharf festival, which typically draws 8,000 drinkers the week before St. Patrick’s Day. But Kirwan’s pragmatic side reminds him that forgoing customers was, and continues to be, the right move. His annual visit to his hometown of Roscrea in County Tipperary will also have to skip a year.

“If we rush it, it could come back worse,” he says. “So I think as much as we would love to open tomorrow, I want to make sure the CDC and everyone else has a hold on it.”

Kirwan’s on the Wharf

749 Wharf Street Southwest, , DC 20024 (202) 554-3818 Visit Website