Bars around Baltimore are preparing for a lively St. Patrick’s Day weekend with beer specials, bands and giveaways.

But one Harbor East spot has strong ties to Ireland every day of the year. For this week’s column, I spoke with Seamus Kelly, the general manager of the James Joyce Irish Pub, who moved to Baltimore more than 15 years ago from County Cavan, an hour and a half northwest of Dublin, to work at the Irish pub.


I also have an update about the next chapter for Holiday House, the Harford Road dive bar with the star-spangled facade, as well as some restaurant news from Mount Vernon, where a popular brunch spot is calling it quits.

Seamus Kelly initially thought he might have bombed his interview for a job at the James Joyce Irish Pub.


Kelly was in his mid-20s and working at a hotel in Ireland when he heard about the opportunity to apply for a position at the Baltimore bar. In the early 2000s, former owner Jimmy Fagan made occasional trips to the Emerald Isle to recruit Irish staff as managers-in-training.

Despite his nerves, Kelly ended up landing the job. He came to Maryland in 2005 as a bartender, alongside four other co-workers who also hailed from Ireland. Today, he’s the pub’s general manager.

Aside from a five-year hiatus spent working other jobs — including a gig as the food and beer director for the Guinness Open Gate Brewery in Halethorpe — the James Joyce is where Kelly has made his career. But when he first got to Baltimore, he wasn’t sure whether his move to a new country would be a success.

“The first six months were challenging, financially and mentally,” he said, but “after six months, I knew I would not be going home.”

Kelly found a sense of community at the bar, which brought together “a bunch of misfits from around the world.”

“The reason we all stayed was we had this connection with one another,” he said.

The landscape of Harbor East has changed a lot since Kelly’s early days working for the bar. Back then, the only other restaurants around were Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar and Roy’s, which have both since closed. The Four Seasons Hotel was still a parking lot.

“I think that’s why people come back, because it hasn’t changed,” Kelly said of the James Joyce, one of the waterfront neighborhood’s longest-standing landmarks.


The James Joyce closed in December 2020, but it was scooped up by Atlas Restaurant Group, which reopened the bar last September.

The pub, which features authentic touches like a bartop imported from Ireland, almost disappeared for good in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic. The James Joyce closed in December 2020, but it was scooped up by Atlas Restaurant Group, which reopened the bar last September following a $500,000 renovation that brought upgrades like new furniture, a new facade and a retractable roof for the outdoor patio.

When he heard the pub would be reopening, Kelly decided to apply for a chance to return. “For me, it’s not about the wage — it’s more personal,” he said. “To keep this amazing property in this location. It has a lot of meaning for a lot of people.”

This week, he’s been busy getting ready for the first St. Patrick’s Day since the bar’s return. On the agenda: a St. Patrick’s Day breakfast buffet, Jameson giveaways, live music and performances from Irish step dancers.

How do the festivities compare with St. Patrick’s Day traditions in Ireland? Kelly said both nations are enthusiastic about celebrating the holiday, though in Ireland there is a stronger religious element that is often lost in the boozy gatherings here in the U.S.

“People would attend Mass prior to going out,” he said.

Even those who haven’t been inside the Holiday House might be familiar with its exterior. The former dive bar’s facade is painted with the stars and stripes of the American flag — just one of the colorful touches for the eclectic space, which also featured autographed photos of strippers and filmmaker John Waters on the walls.


Waters shot some of his film “Dirty Shame” at the long-standing Harford Road spot, another testament to its quirkiness.

Soon, though, it will be time to say goodbye to the red-white-and-blue and the divey vibes. New owners Stacy McKenzie and Mykel Branch are in the process of renovating the building so they can open Mykes Bar and Lounge, a gathering spot with a decidedly more upscale atmosphere.

McKenzie said she and Branch, her boyfriend and business partner, plan to paint the lounge’s facade black to match the updated interior of the building, where they are installing new flooring and new bathrooms, among other aesthetic improvements. The bar is slated to open within two weeks, and a grand opening for the event space in the rear of the building will follow, scheduled for April 22 to coincide with the pay-per-view fight between Baltimore native Gervonta Davis and boxer Ryan Garcia that night.

The bar’s impending opening is a full-circle moment for McKenzie and Branch, who dreamed up the concept about a year ago, at the start of their relationship. Branch frequently organizes events in Baltimore and they stumbled on the Holiday House while looking for an event space for him.

In addition to “strong drinks,” the pair plan to serve a menu of Caribbean food, inspired by McKenzie’s Jamaican roots. She said Mykes will offer “an all-inclusive type of experience,” with food and live jazz and rock music on some nights.

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“It’s going to be just a real kind of laid-back space where people can come get a drink, have something good to eat,” she said.


But, she added, “it will not be a dive bar.”

Paul Thomas is the owner of The Civil, which has closed after five years in Mount Vernon.

The Civil, known for its brunches, sophisticated decor and some eye-catching menu items like 24K gold wings, has closed after five years in Mount Vernon.

In a farewell message posted to social media, the restaurant thanked customers for “5 years of patronage, 5 yeast of memories and 5 years of great vibes.”

“With this being our first venture, we had no handbook, no set of rules nor any directions to follow, so a lot of our processes were trial and error,” the message says. “At times our audiences were bigger than our vision. We appreciate every interaction and we thank everyone for taking the time to check us out.”

The post suggested a future project is in the works, teasing a “rebrand and relocation coming to you very soon.” Owner Paul Thomas told The Sun last year that he plans to open a mac-and-cheese-focused eatery called MAC Daddy in Fells Point.

While we wait for more details, diners can check out The Civil’s sister restaurant, Eat.Drink.Relax, which took over the former City Cafe space at 1001 Cathedral St.

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