A Wicker Park restaurant space hosted an illegal pandemic party that drew about 300 people on Saturday night, according the a city of Chicago news release. Police broke up the event held at the Bedford, a former restaurant on the Northwest corner of Ashland and Division. Now comes news that the owner of the building wants to open up a rooftop bar above the basement space where the weekend’s party was held.
Chicago officials on Monday afternoon announced a list of businesses that violated COVID-19 safety regulations. The top of the news release trumpeted how police broke up “the Vault” party early Sunday morning on the 1600 block of North Ashland Avenue. That’s the former Bedford, a restaurant and club that’s been closed since 2017. It’s a converted bank space where designers left the safety deposit boxes and safe doors intact for ambience.
The city provided photos from Saturday night’s event, organized by a group that calls themselves “All Access” who put out fliers soliciting the space for private events. Photos showed a dark space crowded where most attendees didn’t wear face masks. They stood shoulder to shoulder, ignoring the city’s Thanksgiving advisory for Chicagoans to stay at home unless they’re participating in an essential activity. Attending an unsanctioned late-night party wasn’t on Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s list of approved activities that included going to a grocery store, hospital, or to work.
Health experts are worried that people ignored social-distancing rules during Thanksgiving, and Dr. Anthony Fauci has warned of an upcoming surge. Gov. J.B. Pritzker says he spoke with Fauci on Monday, and the doctor told him that “this is no time to pull back on mitigations.” Meanwhile, angry restaurant workers who have respected safety rules have grown even more frustrated thinking that gatherings like the one in Wicker Park means novel coronavirus cases will keep increasing and they’ll have to continue to keep their dining rooms closed for a longer period of time.
The city says it issued five cease-and-desist orders. The owners of the property also received nine citations for violations for going over indoor capacity, ignoring social distancing, no masks, no business licenses, smoking indoors, and operating sparklers indoors. The buildings department has also ordered the Bedford space closed for dangerous and hazardous conditions, including no smoke alarms, no carbon monoxide detectors, and no fire extinguishers.
It’s unknown if the building’s owners knew about the party. The landlord, Robert Mosky, didn’t immediately return a message left on his company’s website. In a bout of curious timing, Block Club Chicago reports that RDM Development and Investment last week presented a plan to open a restaurant in the unused rooftop space above the former Bedford. RDM supposedly has a restaurant partner lined up but hasn’t revealed a name.
That operator would also takeover the Bedford basement space, according to Block Club. Plans to revitalize the room have been in the works for years. The Bedford’s former operators also ran Carriage House, an acclaimed restaurant a few blocks west that they eventually renamed Buck’s — where Beyonce and Jay-Z stopped by. Those operators are no longer in involved with the space. Aloha Poke Co. founder Zach Friedlander was a Buck’s regular and met the celebrities at the bar. At one point, Friedlander also had plans to take over the Bedford.
Since October 30, the city says its Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection (BACP) has issued 20 citations and 50 “notices to correct” to bars, and restaurants, and other businesses. October 30 is when the state suspended indoor restaurant service in Chicago and all private events. The city says it’s ordered nine one-day closure orders for businesses which violated those stipulations. Within that group, four were issued long-term orders for “egregiously violating the COVID-19 regulations.”
The Delta, also in Wicker Park, was issued a one-day order after inspectors showed up to a private party held on November 13, says owner Eldridge Williams. A customer asked if they could hold a party, and the Delta — like many venues that could use additional revenue during the pandemic — agreed. Williams says fewer than 20 guests were on the patio and inspectors cited the restaurant after saying guests weren’t wearing face masks and were ignoring social-distancing guidelines.
The one-day closure won’t affect the Delta much; it had been closed for two weeks after a few workers came down with COVID-19. They voluntarily closed for COVID-19 testing and to clean the restaurant. Williams says they’ve invested “a lot of money to make sure out patio followed COVID guidelines.”
“They were definitely a bit overzealous with their approach,” he says. “But you can’t really fight with the city.”
Williams wasn’t fined, he says. It’s more difficult for Black-owned bars to operate in Chicago, and one of the factors is that some feel that they’ve been unfairly targeted by the city.
“I hope that’s not the case,” Williams says. “Does it help? Probably not, but I’m sure there’s a plethora of white-owned places also getting ticketed.”
Other restaurants listed in the city’s news release include Wildberry Cafe’s location inside Water Tower Place. Its owners didn’t return a request for comment. Instagram photos published over the weekend appear to show indoor service in defiance of Pritzker’s order. Five other restaurants were also issued citations: Fat Fish Bar & Grill, Black Cat Lounge, Mariscos La Diabla, “Effe Inc.” (the address listed falls under Trojanek Lounge), and Linda’s Place.
There are private Facebook groups dedicated to listing suburban restaurants that are serving customers indoors. City restaurants face harsher consequences compared to their suburban counterparts, as Chicago officials have more authority to impose fines or revoke licenses.