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Chicagoans Can Now Dine on Sidewalk Patios in the Middle of Winter

The City Council approved extending patio season by three months

Outdoor cafes, like this one at Gibsons, can now stay open through winter.
Marc Much
Ashok Selvam is the editor of Eater Chicago and a native Chicagoan armed with more than two decades of award-winning journalism. Now covering the world of restaurants and food, his nut graphs are super nutty.

Chicagoans will now be able to dine outdoors in the middle of winter at their favorite sidewalk patios now that the city council has altered its policy that only allowed restaurant and bars to open its patios from March 1 through December 1. Aldermen approved the measure on Tuesday giving restaurant and bar owners an extra three months of patio season from December though February. The rule affects the more than 1,200 Chicago establishments with patios on public sidewalks, according to a city news release.

There were bumps in negotiations. A few aldermen wondered how extending sidewalk patio season could impact winter snow removal. What happens when unused patio furniture provides another wintry obstacle? According to the Sun-Times, it sounds like the city will implement rules similar to its winter parking bans for cars. Patio furniture would need to be removed if snowfalls exceed a certain, undetermined, amount of snow.

Talks to make the change began last year. Though it’s difficult to imagine as winter’s temperatures lingered this year, Chicago experienced an unseasonably warm February 2017 with temps that hovered around the 70s. Some restaurant owners approached the Illinois Restaurant Association in the hopes of opening their patios that month. They were rebuked by city officials who cited the existing law. However, that started the dialogue which led to today’s change in the ordinance.

A plastic dome that looks like an igloo for two people to gather near the Chicago River.
Chicagoans won’t need River Domes to dine outside this winter.
City Winery [Official Photo]

Restaurants are going to make more use of heat lamps and the ordinance also allows for heated tents on patios. There’s some interest in wintry adventures. The folks behind City Winery introduced their river domes in 2016, and the heated bubbles drew tons of interest.

The council also adopted an ordinance that slices the cost of a start-up license in half from $250 to $125. This is a way, city officials contended, that will entice would-be first-time restaurant owners to open their businesses in Chicago, rather than in other cities.