Notorious River West dive Richard’s Bar, which was in the headlines earlier in 2020, made it plain its intention to defy the state and local pandemic safety regulations as Chicago continues to hover around a 13-percent COVID-19 positivity rate and the U.S. sees multiple record-breaking one-day death tolls.
Patrons have been seen hanging out inside the bar at 491 N. Milwaukee Avenue since early September. But on Thursday, Block Club Chicago reported the bar had posted a proud letter to the door declaring bar staff will refuse to comply with shutdown requests or citations from city officials. The report also included a photo of patrons sitting inside at the bar. The letter, as of Thursday morning, had been removed and replaced with a sign reading “carry out only.” The letter stated that Richard’s had retained an attorney, a Western Illinois-based lawyer who has specialized in representing suburban restaurants in challenging Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s pandemic executive orders. Bars haven’t been able to offer indoor service since late October.
The letter states “safety is our one priority” and mandates that customers should wear masks. In challenging the city’s authority to close the bar, Richard’s uses an argument with wording other establishments outside of Chicago have used to justify staying open. The Illinois Second District Appellate Court has already ruled in November that the governor has the authority to issue multiple proclamations stemming from one ongoing disaster.
Richard’s has a reputation for ignoring rules by allowing customers to light up cigarettes ever since Chicago banned indoor smoking in bars and restaurants in 2008. It became the site of a tragedy in February when customer Thomas Tansey, an ex-Marine, allegedly stabbed 23-year-old Kenneth Paterimos to death just outside the bar where they had both been drinking. Paterimos’s family filed a wrongful death lawsuit in August against the bar alleging that staff over-served Tansey, who faces second-degree murder charges.
City officials must now figure out how to address the bar’s defiance. Ald. (27th Ward) Walter Burnett Jr., who represents the West Loop, told Block Club that Wednesday was the first time he heard about indoor drinking at the bar, though neighbors have reported claims to police that the bar was breaking COVID-19 rules back in March. The bar was cited and faces $12,500 in fines from the spring violations.
The alderman told Block Club that there aren’t enough people to enforce the regulations designed to help stem the spread of the virus. City officials seem to have no qualms about cracking down on other establishments that break pandemic rules — Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s office this week issued a press release announcing that seven businesses were cited for violations from December 3 through 6.
Richard’s attorney, Tom DeVore — who is based about 30 miles east of St. Louis — has represented suburban restaurant owners in multiple lawsuits filed against Pritzker, arguing that the governor doesn’t have the authority to shut down indoor dining in Illinois. He’s gained a social media following among restaurant and bar owners who feel the Democrat-controlled government in Springfield has overstepped its authority. DeVore saw success in October when a Kane County judge granted a temporary restraining order to FoxFire restaurant in Geneva that allowed it to stay open during ongoing legal challenges. However in November, an appellate court ultimately ruled in Pritzker’s favor, and that decision is now legal precedent. That could be bad news for the several pending lawsuits challenging the state’s shutdown.
Chicago’s larger population gives the city more authority than other cities in Illinois. The city told Block Club that it has the power to close Richard’s and other bars if needed. Alcohol and building licenses give the city more avenues to take action. The city is reportedly investigating Richard’s. The city is sharing more details on how its enforcing pandemic rules. This week, the city cited Ann Sather, the Lakeview restaurant owned by Ald. (44th Ward) Tom Tunney, for serving customers indoors.
- Richard’s Bar Is Open For Business, And ‘Will Not Comply’ If City Tries To Close It, Sign Declares [Block Club Chicago]
- Neighbor Calls Police on Bar Claiming Tavern was Serving Drinks [ECHI]
- River West Dive Bar Stabbing Suspect Released After Claiming Self Defense [ECHI]
- Richard’s Bar Stabbing Suspect Charged With Second-Degree Murder [ECHI]
- Richard’s Bar Murder Suspect Granted $250K Bail [ECHI]
- Richard’s Bar Sued by Family of Slain Stabbing Victim [ECHI]
- More suburban restaurants sue Pritzker over COVID shutdown orders [Cook County Record]
- Fox Fire restaurant appellate decision is now legal precedent [Capitol Fax]
- Alderman Tom Tunney’s Chicago Restaurant Faces $10,500 in Fines as Owners Rage About His Hypocrisy [ECHI]