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Chicago Bars and Breweries Can Reopen Wednesday for Outdoor Drinking

Outdoor drinking will follow the same regulations as outdoor dining

Two folks drinking cocktails while sitting on a colorful patio.
Chicago bars can open for outdoor service on Wednesday.
Barry Brecheisen/Eater Chicago
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.

Bars that don’t serve food have felt left out as restaurants began outdoor dining earlier this month in Chicago. That will change Wednesday as that’s when bars can resume serving customers. Bars will have to obey the same safety guidelines imposed on outdoor dining: Staff will have to wear masks and tables need to be six-feet apart with a maximum six people per table.

This means dive bars and breweries can open, albeit it at a reduced capacity. The number of bars that can actually reopen remains to be seen. The city’s release mentions bars could operate with “outdoor patios, rooftops, rooms with retractable roofs and indoor spaces where 50 percent or more of a wall can be removed.” What about sidewalk patios? Taverns without food aren’t issued sidewalk patios licenses in Chicago. Also, there aren’t many dive bars slinging Jeppson’s Malört with a fresh retractable roof overhead.

Customers also have to limit themselves to two-hour stays. Many restaurants are limiting customers to 90-minute to two-hour visits for outdoor dining. Bars can sell drinks until 11 p.m. on premises. To-go and delivery sales will end at 9 p.m.

The city is also expanding its pilot program where it closes streets to car traffic to allow restaurants to set up chairs and tables for outdoor dining. Lakeview debuted the program on Friday. The city is allowing bars to participate in the program. Bar owners will have to pay for a $150 permit and apply through their local chamber, special service agency, or business service organizations. Additionally, three or more restaurants can team together and write a letter to their alderman to request participation.

With the short turnaround, it’s highly unlikely a bar will have its paperwork submitted and approved by Wednesday for the open road program. Restaurants have struggled with submissions. Wednesday was picked for opening day as “it is two weeks from the beginning of phase three and the incubation period for COVID-19 is thought to extend to 14 days,” according to the city. Dine-in restaurants could open on July 1 if the city meets health targets.

Chicago hasn’t mandated it, but they are encouraging bars to partner with food trucks and other businesses to provide food for their customers. Back in May, California lawmakers required bars to work with a food partner if they wanted to open.

Bars without food were forced to close on March 17, and there’s been rising frustration to why they’ve been excluded while restaurants serve outdoor diners. Bars are still waiting so they can legally sell to-go cocktails in Chicago. Council members should discuss the matter at the Wednesday meeting.