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Chicago May Delay Closing Streets for Outdoor Dining

While patio dining is on track for Wednesday, the city could wait to shut down streets for tables and chairs

Tavern On Rush restaurant at night in the Gold Coast Historic District.
While patio dining is on track, the city could elect to delay street closures for outdoor dining.
Photo by: Jeffrey Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
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.

UPDATE: The city on Tuesday announced they will go forward with its open roads program and will allow outdoor dining on Wednesday.

There are now major concerns about whether or not Chicago restaurants will open on Wednesday for outdoor dining as planned — specifically, there’s uncertainty about the previously announced “Make Way for Dining” program, which planned to close six major streets to make room for restaurant tables and chairs. The weekend’s citywide protests over George Floyd’s death and police brutality against the African-American community have cast concerns for many in the industry, some of whom spent today boarding their windows in anticipation of more vandalism and looting this week.

While the city could still allow patio and rooftop dining on Wednesday, Chicago appears ready to delay its pilot program for closing streets to create room for more customers: Health experts want restaurants to observe social distancing, and placing tables six feet from each other inside a restaurant cripples a dining room’s capacity. The city created this pilot program to help spark business and excitement during Chicago’s warmer months.

On Friday, Mayor Lori Lightfoot revealed that six intersections would be closed to vehicular traffic so restaurants could set up tables and chairs outside. But there are worries about looters and if restaurants will be in the position to serve customers on Wednesday, says Maureen Martino, executive director of Lakeview East Chamber of Commerce. Restaurants owners in the West Loop received an email from the West Loop Community Organization informing them of an informational meeting scheduled for Tuesday morning about closing off Randolph Restaurant Row for diners.

In Lakeview, Martino says the city will likely push the start of that pilot program to mid-June. The city’s Department of Business and Consumer Affairs didn’t immediately return a request for comment to confirm, but Martino’s comments mesh with what city officials said Monday morning. Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Awardy says everyone involved in a large gathering with people outside their households should self quarantine for 14 days.

“For a lot reasons, we may see ourselves take a step backwards down the line against COVID here in Chicago,” she says.

The Illinois Restaurant Association says it remains unclear on how the protests would impact reopening. In the short term, the city has imposed a curfew on restaurants, forcing them to close from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. On Sunday, two West Loop restaurants have already announced plans to temporarily close after the weekend’s events. The owners of Kumiko released a statement via Instagram reading that they were “stepping down to make room for black-owned businesses in our city.” Elske, an acclaimed Randolph Street restaurant, is also closing takeout operations for the week. On Monday, the city’s most acclaimed fine dining restaurant, Alinea, announced it would close for the day.


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