Slainte! Parnell’s offers ways to enjoy the holidays with the bar, not at the bar

Declan Synnott, owner of Parnell’s Pub in Playhouse Square and Cleveland Heights, did everything right in operating his bars during the coronavirus pandemic.

But when the COVID-19 case numbers started to surge in November, Declan and his team made the tough, pre-emptive decision to shut the party down.

“Your safety and ours is of the utmost importance,” read the Parnell’s Facebook post. “Business aside this is the right decision, and we hope others follow suit, after all, we are in this together.”

Parnell’s is offering two-ounce refillable bottles of their whiskeys for sale as stocking stuffers.Liz Synnott, Declan’s wife, says it’s been hard, but it was the right thing to do. “We were doing a decent business in October,” she recalls. “But the [virus] numbers kept going up and we were getting nervous. It didn’t feel morally right for us.

But just because the doors are temporarily closed doesn’t mean Parnell’s can’t be a part of the holiday partying, says Synnott. Since the two locations closed—Playhouse Square on November 13 and Cedar Hill on Nov. 23—the Synnotts have found some creative ways to keep the conversation lively and the whiskey flowing.

Shortly after closing the bars, Synnott says a regular customer approached them about Declan teaching a private Zoom cocktail class. Declan agreed, and last Saturday, Dec. 5 he got back behind the bar—armed with his laptop, bottles of liquor, his cocktail tools, and plenty of bartender banter—to teach and entertain a group of three couples.

“We knew everyone was safe in their own homes,” Synnott says. “I think probably what we miss the most is the social interaction.”

During the Zoom, Declan demonstrated how to make some of Parnell’s favorite cocktails while also spinning yarns and keeping the conversation lively.

The evening went well, Synnott says, and Declan is open to hosting additional Zoom classes. She says a few more parties have already been booked. Customers buy the whiskey and pay Declan for his time. Synnott says the price varies, depending on the liquor chosen.

It’s almost like physically sitting in the bar, Synnott says. Declan conducts the Zoom meeting while mixing drinks behind the Playhouse square bar, while customers feel as if they are sitting on a bar stool.

“You get to have the normal experience [of being at Parnell’s], but you also get to be comfortable,” she says.

If a Zoom bar visit isn’t your thing, Parnell’s is offering two-ounce refillable bottles of their whiskeys for sale as stocking stuffers. Prices vary, depending on choices—and there are 160 choices—and the proceeds help support the bar while it’s closed. Synnott says customers can order as few or as many as they want, and orders can be picked up at either location or delivery can be arranged.

Synnott says she thinks the idea makes the perfect gift. “Who doesn’t want whiskey in their stockings for Christmas?” She adds that growlers are also for sale.

Parnell’s had been selling take-out cocktails earlier this year when the two locations were open, and Declan started offering a Whiskey Passport earlier this year. Synnott says all 160 of Parnell’s whiskeys are in the Passport, and three people had already filled their passports before the bars closed.

Synnott says they will continue to fight to stay afloat during the pandemic. She is confident they made the right decision to close. “We didn’t want to put ourselves at risk and we didn’t want to put our customers at risk,” she says. “The last thing we would want is to get someone sick.”

Parnell’s latest pivot is much like the changes other food and beverage retailers are making right now, Synnott says.

“Everybody had to shift lanes a little bit,” she says. “Kathy [Blackman] at the Grog Shop is doing affiliate shows, Doug Katz is doing his ghost restaurants. We’re all kind of relying on each other.”

Synnott adds that while the closure is difficult, they know they are not alone in the bar and restaurant industry’s struggles to stay alive.

“For Declan, this is his life and it’s been hard on his mental health,” she says. “We’re all... "struggling" isn’t the right word—it’s just hard. It’s taking us out of our element.”

But Synnott says they will survive. “We know we will be here when it is all over,” she says. “It’s getting through it that’s tough, but we roll with the punches. Some days it’s hard but we’re chasing that light at the end of the tunnel.”

To purchase whiskey stocking stuffers or book a Zoom class at the Parnell’s with Declan, message the bar through Parnell’s Facebook or Twitter pages.

Please note: Per the Ohio State Liquor Board, orders of whiskey to-go are limited to four ounces (or two bottles) per person.

Read more articles by Karin Connelly Rice.

Karin Connelly Rice enjoys telling people's stories, whether it's a promising startup or a life's passion. Over the past 20 years she has reported on the local business community for publications such as Inside Business and Cleveland Magazine. She was editor of the Rocky River/Lakewood edition of In the Neighborhood and was a reporter and photographer for the Amherst News-Times. At Fresh Water she enjoys telling the stories of Clevelanders who are shaping and embracing the business and research climate in Cleveland.