The start of baseball is typically a spring celebration showing Chicagoans have made it through another frigid winter. All its residents, sports fans or not, can appreciate surviving sub-zero temperatures and icy sidewalks. Baseball is that light at the end of the tunnel telling fans that they’ll soon be able to put away their heavy coats. But on the same day the Cubs and White Sox start their seasons, the city has ordered bars in Chicago to close again for indoor service, fearful of recent surges in COVID-19.
Opening Day is supposed to mean that bars around Wrigley Field begin to bulk up staffing by hiring seasonal workers. But this year, even though the sun is out and the mercury is rising, the novel coronavirus has stolen those feelings of elation. In many ways, Chicago is still stuck in a winter mindset.
By now, beer vendors are supposed to be in mid-season form, but there aren’t any fans in stands this year, so there’s no need for stadium dining guides. The White Sox have turned toward a video series showing fans how to make stadium food at home. Have a spare novelty batting helmet? Learn to fill it with ice cream for a proper helmet sundae. Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo has set up a charity event for Opening Day only where customers can order from restaurants like Carson’s, Daisies, and GT Fish & Oyster, and the restaurants will donate money to battle pediatric cancer. (Customers must mention Rizzo’s foundation while ordering.)
Goose Island Brewhouse has an Opening Day special featuring its Sox Golden Ale in cans with crowlers of Cubbie Blue, very diplomatically representing both baseball teams. At Big Star Wrigleyville, across the street from Wrigley Field, the restaurant is offering three-hour game day reservations with unobstructed views of TVs. The dedicated baseball fans at the Tribune food section put together a restaurant and bar guide for game day — though with the pandemic dangers of large gatherings in enclosed quarters, the paper may not have taken the assignment seriously in recommending “baseball-themed seafood, like cocktail shrimp, cocktail sauce and mahi-mahi portions for ceviche or grilling.” (Go to Wixter Seafood anyway and stock up on plenty of conservas, which are good no matter the sport or activity).
Some fans will argue that they need sports more than ever; but it’s tough to blame anyone for not wanting to celebrate during a pandemic, especially as bars close down again without a reopening day in sight. Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s order delivered a death blow to Guthries Tavern, a few blocks west of Wrigley Field. The day of the announcement, the bar announced it would close for good. On its last day, Thursday, customers waited about an hour to get inside the 34-year-old tavern. They commuted in from the suburbs for one last pint at a unique bar without TVs, a place where fans could unwind and get away from Wrigleyville’s antics after a game. Several couples made one last visit; Guthries was where they had their first dates or where they made wedding proposals. Mourners used sidewalk chalk to write their initials and names in front of the bar.
Several customers inquired about buying mugs hanging from the windows or the ceiling art. Management hopes to sell the bar to an owner keen on retaining the bar’s character.
Elsewhere, Chicago’s bar owners, including Melissa and Joel Hill at Reed’s Local in Avondale, are preparing to be out of work after reopening in June. The Hills, unhappy that taverns have been singled out, are prepping a letter that will be sent to 33rd Ward Ald. Rossana Rodriguez Sanchez. They feel allowing indoor dining, even at 20-percent capacity, doesn’t make sense if bars can’t serve customers indoors. They feel the city underestimates the role taverns play in building a community, the same way Guthries introduced many folks to their future spouses.
Over at Logan Arcade, Chicago’s premier arcade bar, management is prepping its own campaign with their own letter/petition. The Logan Square bar brings together customers from a variety of backgrounds through activities including pinball leagues. The bar has remained closed since the March shut down.
Management at Simon’s Tavern in Andersonville, the dive bar with one of the best curated jukeboxes in Chicago, may have found a way to stay open. The bar has a license to sell food, and it looks like it may start serving sandwiches over the weekend.
Sports bars will feel a different pain. The 60-game Major League Baseball season has started, the NHL season resumes August 1 with the Chicago Blackhawks, and the NBA starts next week (though without the Chicago Bulls). There’s actual sports for customers to watch, but bars — at least those without outdoor seating and food — are closed in Chicago. But city officials, including Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady, have recent scenes of crowded parties at Wrigleyville bars burned in their memories.
There are still bars where fans can tear through their fair share of chicken wings or jalapeño poppers. Maybe one will serve a double-fried and panko-breaded coronavirus bite stuffed with gouda. It would probably taste decent delivered, too.