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Chicago Will Allow Bars to Open Sidewalk Patios

Bars that don’t serve food are now allowed sidewalk patios if the city approves their license applications

A sidewalk patio
Bars can now apply to have sidewalk patios.
Barry Brecheisen/Eater Chicago

Chicago bars are fighting for survival after the city last week ordered indoor drinking to stop as COVID-19 surged. A few bars have started to sell food, hoping to keep their doors open, but now the city is floating a lifeline. Bars with taverns license — the ones that don’t serve — can now apply to open sidewalk patios. Previously restaurants — including bars that serve food — were the only establishments allowed to have sidewalk patios in Chicago.

Bar owners can apply here. The move is a temporary one, designed to allow bars to stay open in a safer atmosphere outdoors. Bars, like Sportsman’s Club in West Town, are allowed to have private patios. But if a bar didn’t have those roof decks or backyard spaces, they needed to close. Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection (BACP) announced in a news release Friday afternoon. The move comes after outcry from bar owners after Lightfoot in late June prohibited them from serving alcohol indoors — a death knell for spots like beloved Wrigleyville bar Guthries Tavern, which closed after 34 years due to the restrictions — even as restaurants were allowed to continue service inside.

This development “will make it easier for bars, taverns, and breweries affected by the latest rollback of the reopening guidelines to operate outdoors,” the announcement reads. “Today’s alteration will give these establishments, which cannot operate indoors due to COVID-19, a new option for outdoor service on the sidewalk.”

Previously, the kind of permit necessary for taverns without food to hold sidewalk service was only available for temporary pop-ups in places like parking lots. Bars can now skip a step as the expanded outdoor dining permit will give them the same sidewalk option as restaurants. This could reduce approval time by as much as two months, according to the release.

The sidewalk space must be set up six feet away from pedestrians with barriers to separate them from diners. Bars that don’t serve food also have to partner with a food establishment — a truck, for example — to make sure customers don’t have to imbibe on an empty stomach.

The mayor and health experts have largely pointed at younger residents who ignored social distancing rules as the heart of the problem, and repeatedly warned that they won’t hesitate to shut down dine-in service altogether.