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By Collin Breaux | Email: firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter: @collin_breaux
The new Irish pub in downtown San Juan Capistrano has finally opened, albeit under unexpected circumstances.
Paddy’s Station had a soft opening on Friday, May 8, in defiance of guidelines prohibiting dine-in seating at bars and restaurants during the coronavirus pandemic. People enjoyed drinks at the bar and relaxed at indoor and outdoor tables. The pub will encourage physical distancing. Owner David Woodnutt said people are sick of the shutdown, and he is skeptical regarding some aspects of the pandemic.
A request for comment from county and health officials on the opening has not been currently answered. The opening has drawn some criticism online and elsewhere, though others support the decision. On Tuesday, March 12, Gov. Gavin Newsom publicly announced guidelines for in-room dining, saying patrons would be allowed to return in counties where conditions safely facilitate it. In-room dining has been prohibited statewide during the health crisis.
“We were trying to open for St. Patrick’s Day. Of course, we ran into a couple of issues. The first was the virus,” Woodnutt said. “We also had much more work to do getting the place ready. It allowed us, because the government shutting everything down . . . it gave us a lot more time to do a better job essentially—more cleaning, better kitchen equipment, redoing the bathrooms totally.”
The pub is at the spot formerly occupied by The Vintage Steakhouse, near Trevor’s at the Tracks and Rancho Capistrano Winery. The floors have been renovated, and interior curtains were taken down so more outside lighting can come in. Patrons can watch the train go by when they sit at a window booth.
The pub has long been the brainchild of Woodnutt, who has been busy fixing up the building with help from others during the pandemic. He got up at 7 a.m. and returned home at 8 p.m. for months while working to get the pub up and running. California is currently in phase two of a planned four-phase reopening, with some businesses such as retail shops allowed to have curbside services.
Paddy’s Station follows Nomads Canteen in San Clemente with opening before restrictions are lifted. Orange County Board Supervisors Michelle Steel and Don Wagner previously said the Orange County Health Care Agency’s warning to suspend Nomads’ permit for reopening was “in complete contradiction,” to the board’s guidelines for reopening businesses.
Paddy’s Station’s menu features Irish pub grub, including fish and chips, and serves a variety of drinks, including Guinness. They are also offering curbside service, as many other places are doing during the health crisis.
“It’s bright and open,” Woodnutt said of the atmosphere. “We haven’t done a tremendous amount of Irish stuff. I want to be a bit more subtle about the Irish aspect, because the place has its own charm. People just love that train coming in. When you’re in here at night, when the lights are dim and you can see the carriage and train, you feel like you’re in a station.”
Some Irish memorabilia has been placed inside and outside the building, including Irish flags, a leprechaun figurine and a bench painted in the colors of the Irish flag. Plans going forward will include Sunday roast, music and dancing.
The pub plans to be open from noon to 11 p.m. daily. The address is 26701 Verdugo St. and their website is paddysstation.com.
“We’re trying to make the menu reasonably priced,” Woodnutt said. “I just want people to come here and feel at home. It’s open to everybody—families, whoever wants to come. The deck is dog-friendly.”
The opening comes after a nearby portion of downtown has been renovated through the Verdugo Beautification Project. Woodnutt, who grew up in Ireland before moving to Orange County, said San Juan Capistrano has a European feel.
“It’s a wonderful city,” Woodnutt said. “Everybody here in business is so keen to help one another.”
Downtown has been a ghost town during the pandemic as people stay indoors and businesses remain closed or under reduced operations, but Woodnutt expects Paddy’s Station to become a popular gathering spot when people start trickling back in and the world gradually restarts.
Woodnutt would also like to work with other businesses to hold a belated St. Patrick’s Day celebration in coordination with the city.
“I think it will be a good place,” Woodnutt said.
Editor’s note: This post has been updated from an original version to include developing details.