The sun came out Wednesday afternoon in Chicago, as restaurants across the city welcomed customers for the first time since mid-March. Restaurant workers masked up, and put up safety signs while customers brought extra hand sanitizer. Together they started to get reacquainted. There were no crowds, at least early on, as many struggled with any semblance of a celebration with the weekend’s police brutality protests and the looting that followed fresh in Chicagoans’ minds.
In Pilsen, a few businesses had windows boarded as neighborhood tension mounted between the Latinx and African-American communities over the weekend. A “Black and Brown” unity march took place Tuesday night as residents rallied together.
Down the street, over at La Vaca Margarita Bar, three parties sat at separate tables on Wednesday afternoon. The city has capped the maximum number of people allowed to sit at a single table. Four was the largest party at La Vaca. Ivan Gutierrez and his family runs the restaurant. They had to half their capacity from 30 on their enclosed patio to 16 so they could observe the six-foot rule between tables. Gutierrez says they greeted their first customer at 11:45 a.m. They ordered margaritas, tacos, and Micheladas.
Elsewhere on Pilsen, restaurants without outdoor spaces, like Honky Tonk Barbecue, continued carryout operations. Restaurant owners like Casa Indigo’s Amar Mansuria, are hoping the city can close a portion of 18th Street to give him much needed space for tables and chairs. Right now, Casa Indigo only has room for two small round tables that seat two each in front of their windows. Mansuria says if he gets two other restaurant owners nearby to sign a letter, they could go forward with a plan to close roads with the city.
There are other obstacles. S.K.Y. owner and chef Stephen Gillanders says he’d love a sidewalk patio. When he opened three years ago, the city asked him to pay $5,000 to flatten out part of the path in front of his restaurant. They won’t give him a patio permit without him fixing the city’s property. Down the street, Samantha Sanchez was hoping for a big weekend at La Luna. No customers were sitting down on her 18th Street patio, but was optimistic.
At the Duck Inn in Bridgeport, Kevin Hickey was wearing a Chicago White Sox mask, but he wasn’t ready for game day. He jokes about creating a home baseball fan kit with “Quacker-Jack” (a parody of Cracker Jack, the old ballpark treat). Hickey is still sketching out how customers would be able to safety enter. There’s still anxiety over the the disease. Emotions were heightened even more over the weekend during the protests.
Up north in Lincoln Park, Las Fuentes Mexican restaurant was gearing up for a big day at their massive and enclosed patio. Daniel Albarran says they’re expecting 120 customers, either via reservation or walk-ins. They’ve rearranged furniture to make a spacious aisle so customers and enter and exit without bunching up too closely next to each other. They’ve also taped red arrows to the ground the show customers where to stand.
Stay tuned for more coverage of the reopening of Chicago’s restaurants.