Chicago bars will have to stop serving customers on Friday. Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced a shut down, saying the city will once again prohibit bars from serving alcohol indoors. Monday’s announcement is the news the industry worried about last week when Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady foreshadowed such a move. The doctor said the city was hovering close to a COVID-19 danger zone and that she wouldn’t hesitate to recommend closures.
After remaining closed since mid-March, the city reopened bars on June 17. But not many reopened as owners worried the city would regress and another shut down was looming. Last week, Arwady said she’d consider closing down businesses if Chicago exceeded 200 COVID-19 cases a day. On Sunday, the city reported 233.
The new restrictions go into place at 12:01 a.m. Friday, according to a news release from the mayor’s office. The release claims this “as a precautionary move in response to a recent increase in community cases of the virus.” Last week, the mayor and health experts pointed their fingers at younger residents who ignored social distancing rules.
Restaurants can continue to serve customers alcoholic drinks indoors. The mayor is also reducing the maximum number for groups at restaurants, bars and brewpubs rolling the number back to six. Lightfoot’s announcement included restrictions that affect other industries, including fitness centers and salons. For example, property managers at condos will now be charged with restricting visitors to five per unit. The crackdown hopes to curb large parties and gatherings that could potentially spread the disease.
This is a potentially crippling blow for bar owners. Crushed by Giants — a Streeterville brewpub — opened for the first time on Friday. The shut down won’t affect Greg Shuff’s new venture (they serve food), but he still worries: “If [Mayor] Lightfoot slides us back to Phase Three, Crushed By Giants will be in a lot of trouble,” he says. “There’s no question about that.”
The state, after much pressure from owners, loosened restrictions to help owners, including allowing bars to sell to-go cocktails. But relief has been hard to come by, and the city does not offer an outdoor tavern license. That means establishments that don’t serve food don’t have sidewalk patios in Chicago; a few have private patios. Theoretically, bars could serve customers outdoors if they’re located within one of the districts, like Lakeview or West Loop, enrolled in the “Make Way” program. That’s when the city closes down a road to allow venues to set up tables for street dining.
Over the last few weeks, bars, including those in Wrigleyville, were seen packed with customers not wearing masks while not seated. The city closed a West Loop restaurant, Wise Owl Drinkery & Cookhouse, for repeated violations. Ignoring safety protocols, including not properly spacing tables, can bring $10,000 fines.
In Chicago, a handful of bars — desperate for income after the March shut down — applied a variety of safety protocols to try to convince customers that they could drink in a safe environment. Owners installed plexiglass barriers to separate folks sitting at the bar and others put up clear shields at ordering stations to protect bartenders. Like restaurants, bars used QR codes so customers could view menus without risking touching contaminated paper menus. Hand sanitizer stations were located throughout venues.
Chicago’s bar owners have felt singled out by the city as a scapegoat. They’ve pointed to loose restrictions at Navy Pier as evidence as unfair treatment. Navy Pier is a centrally located tourist attraction that’s brought in crowds of thousands since reopening.
Elsewhere across the country, governmental officials have seen novel coronavirus surges and have shut down restaurants and bars. Bars in Michigan were ordered to closed on July 1. Texas closed bars in late June after the state saw cases spike.