The Chicago Cubs have been working with the city to shut down Clark and Addison for outdoor dining. The team had hoped this week to announce they were the latest addition to the city’s “Make Way” program, the initiative designed to help restaurants during the COVID-19 pandemic. The city has yet to approve the request to close down the street for Independence Day weekend.
The parties are still working toward approval later this summer. The busy July 4 weekend may not have been the ideal one to kick off the program in Wrigleyville. The delay will give the team and the city even more time to work on any safety concerns, says Cubs spokesperson Julian Green.
“While we would love to open we understand how a holiday weekend launch while managing ongoing protests and activities could strain already strapped city resources to ensure public safety.” Green says.
The plan, dubbed “Dining on Clark at Gallagher Way,” was to close Clark Street — just north of Addison and until Patterson — every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday through August. That would allow four restaurants inside the Hotel Zachary (which stands across the street from Wrigley Field) to serve diners at 80 tables officials hoped to set up. Hotel Zachary is owned by the Ricketts family through Marquee Development. That’s the rebranded name for Hickory Street Capital, the Ricketts’ investment company behind much of the new construction surrounding Wrigley Field. The family also owns the Cubs.
The restaurants set to participate were Swift & Sons Tavern, Big Star, Smoke Daddy, and McDonald’s. Health experts say outdoor dining is safer than indoor during the pandemic, leading officials to close city streets to give restaurants greater outdoor seating capacity. In June, the city started closing select intersections, with Broadway Street in Lakeview being the first road to close for diners. That scene there is relaxed during afternoon hours, with social distancing and more people wearing masks to reduce the spread of COVID-19. The evenings resemble more of a street festival with alcohol and more clusters of people with facial coverings. Other neighborhoods — Gold Coast, Little Italy, and West Loop — have also closed roads to make space for diners. Like Wrigleyville, neighborhoods have waited weeks for city approval. The George Floyd protests were also a factor in delays.
The city is still working on the request. There’s also the added complication of Major League Baseball’s return. There’s still no schedule, and organizers weren’t sure if outdoor dining would take place during game days at Wrigley. The past few days have created even more reluctance nationwide. California Gov. Gavin Newsom has ordered the closures of LA dining rooms for the next three weeks after COVID-19 spikes. New York City has postponed indoor dining’s return.
Summers in Wrigleyville can be raucous, with tourists and fans descending to watch baseball and to hang out at bars. But this season was postponed and bars have remained closed since mid-March in Chicago. June 26 was the first day bars could reopen at limited capacity, and many crowded into Wrigleyville taverns. Block Club Chicago captured the scene over reopening weekend, one where people stood in long lines and ignored social distancing, and where mask use was limited. Wrigleyville wasn’t the only place where such crowds clustered; photos from Greektown on Saturday showed a similar situation.
On Thursday, Mayor Lori Lightfoot issued a stern warning to Chicago bar and restaurant owners who ignored safety precautions: “We’re not going to hesitate to shut you down,” the mayor told reporters. “And if you’re shut down, you’re not coming back anytime soon.”
Nathaniel Brethold, director of hospitality management for Marquee Development, says diners would have been smarter than bar patrons and operators who ignored safety protocols. The parent companies of the Clark Street restaurants that were due to participate — One Off Hospitality Group (Big Star), Boka Restaurant Group (Swift & Sons), and 4-Star Restaurant Group (Smoke Daddy) — are respected names which have experience at street festivals and and know how to handle crowds, Brethold says.
“At the end of the day, we just want to be sure that dining is the focus and people have a good understanding to ensure that are following their own social distance rules,” he says.
Brethold says the Ricketts family was trying to be good neighbors by pushing for outdoor dining, to help the restaurants that are hurting. He mentions the Cubs 2016 World Series win and renovations to Wrigley Field as examples of the Ricketts’s neighborly spirit.
While Gallagher Way wouldn’t be set up for outdoor dining, the park in front of the stadium was going to host a pop-up plant market while the streets are closed. Kehoe Designs’s Green Market Garden has popped up at locations across the city. Organizers felt the plant store would give visitors something to do rather than loiter in the streets. They also hoped restaurant reservations would reduce people waiting around for tables; over on Broadway, weekend waits could be as long as three hours for walk-in restaurant customers.
“At the end of the day, the penalty for bad operators will be paid by the customers,” Green says. “We want to make sure we are doing everything possible to shoulder the collective responsibility in making sure we can do this the right way.”
The city is slowly moving through hundreds of permit applications from restaurants who want the added seating capacities to serve customers. For instance, the owners of three Lakeview restaurants — Mayan Palace, Tandoor Char House, and Sapori Trattoria — are waiting for the city to sign off on a plan to close Schubert near Halsted so diners they could set up 24 tables.
In related news, a Wrigleyville rooftop operator tells the Tribune that the city will allow rooftop operators to open during baseball season. The rooftops, located behind Wrigley Field, offer views of the stadium. They can open with 25-percent capacity during game day, according to the general manager of Murphy’s Rooftops.