It's hard to catch up with Caitlin Forster. As bar manager at Ha'Penny Pub in Boise, Forster is the friendly face behind the authentic Irish bar top, built with wood from the Emerald Isle. But she's also nearly always making the rounds, checking on tables' food and drink orders. Put her movement to music and you practically have an Irish Reel. Not that she's from Ireland; but, come St. Patrick's Day, Ha'Penny is as close to Dublin's River Liffey as you can get in Boise.
With green garland draped from the rafters, shamrock twinkle lights aglow and even some original sheet music of "Danny Boy" framed on the wall, Ha'Penny is set to serve hundreds of customers who will pass through its doors Friday, March 17. Forster poured us a perfect black and tan and stood still long enough to answer a few questions about her preparations for the big day.
I'm still surprised at how many wait staff in Boise don't even know what a black and tan is when I order one.
It's all about the Irish drinks here—certainly, anything with Guinness or Jameson. I've lost count of how many Irish drinks there are.
Have you spent much of your professional life behind a bar?
No, but I've certainly served people. I've been a lifeguard, assistant to people with handicaps and, while I was working for Idaho Parks and Recreation, my best friend called me three years ago, saying she needed some help at Ha'Penny for the winter. Before that winter was over, I had become the bar manager.
What is your usual head-count of bar staff?
We've got a total of four people working different shifts behind the bar, but for St. Patrick's Day, it's all hands on deck. We'll bring on extra staff and former employees who love to be here on that day. In the morning, we'll have two bartenders and five servers. Later in the day, we'll add five more servers and up to five bartenders.
Can I assume you'll pour a lot of green beer?
The kegs of green beer will be delivered any day now.
Wait a minute...what? Kegs? The beer is delivered to you green?
You bet. We normally have 24 beers on tap, but for St. Patrick's Day it will be 23, because we'll have taps of Guinness going. Plus, we'll be making a lot of Irish coffees.
I know you'll start celebrating pretty early.
The doors will open at 10 a.m., the music will start at 11 a.m. and we'll keep going until 2 a.m.
Considering that St. Patrick's Day is on a Friday this year, some people will undoubtedly linger for several hours and pound a few more drinks than they should.
We keep a pretty good eye on them. And you can tell when it's time to put some water in front of them, get them some food or cut them off.
Your menu is pretty Irish year round. How do you refine it for St. Patrick's Day?
Honestly, we hone it down to the Irish food. Lamb stew, shepherd's pie, Guinness burgers, bangers and mash, the Dublin dip, fish and chips.
And a lot of corned beef.
The first year I worked here, I think we served 500 orders of corned beef and cabbage. And I didn't even like corned beef until I started working here. It's pretty great.
Can I assume that St. Patrick's Day is a good day for tips?
When a server tells me, "I'm not making a lot of money," I say, "Just wait 'til St. Patrick's Day." You'll get a month of money in one day. But you've got to be pretty good at serving. One server may be in tears, another may walk out. But that's inexperience. It's crazy and you've got to know what you're getting into. If a server can get through the month of December, serving all the big parties, Christmas and New Year's, then you've got a pretty good idea. But the big test is St. Patrick's Day. You've got to bring your A game.