The joy of live music can be heightened with a tasty beverage or delicious snack, but the pandemic managed to scar both the concert venue and hospitality industries. Restaurants and bars can continue to serve customers outdoors, but most big venues don’t have a space that could allow them to meet governmental safety requirements. FitzGerald’s happens to have an outdoor space in suburban Berwyn than can safely hold 100. They’ve been hosting live music since June with reservations available via OpenTable.
Will Duncan purchased FitzGerald’s in March, and hoped to keep loyal fans happy while adding a few new wrinkles. Duncan’s background is in cocktails (he worked at the bars and restaurants that share a building with Thalia Hall in Pilsen), and he’d hope to turn FitzGerald’s into a drinking destination. That goal is on the back burner, thanks to COVID-19’s impact. It’s now about survival.
“We can struggle through for a little while doing this, but we’d like to see a vaccine,” Duncan says. “Because we know we aren’t doing anything comparable to what this property is meant to do until the vaccine.”
FitzGerald’s began to once again utilize its patio in mid-June. Folks can unmask while seated, but are required to cover their faces. Over at Green Mill in Uptown, management has barred the use of wind instruments with fears that it could contribute to the spread of novel coronavirus. Musicians don’t have those restrictions it FitzGerald’s, Duncan says.
And while concertgoers might not be able to move around the grounds and dance as they’re used to, but Duncan has noticed a little pandemic sway, folks gently dancing while wearing masks.
“It just helps them make sense of this crazy-ass world,” Duncan says.
FitzGerald’s is using more batched cocktails as a response to COVID-19 safety. Duncan raves about a frozen Paloma made with Squirt (“You have to have Squirt,” Duncan says). There’s also a frozen Irish coffee (“It’s just kind of a delicious Frappucchino, but it makes you feel funny.”). FitzGerald’s has also started a chef’s burger series, bringing in talent including Brendan O’Connor from Big Guys Sausage Stand and John Manion from El Che Steakhouse & Bar. Manion will visit on Saturday for the weekly “Burgers Are the Best” event. Customers can also pickup fresh meat from Manion after ordering on Tock. Other chefs with burgers this month include the crew from Saint Lou’s Assembly and Nick Jirasek of Young American.
Concert venues across the country have been unable to host shows so Duncan needed to get creative. Using a pickup truck outfitted with portable electricity generators, Duncan enlisted musicians like John Langford and Lil’ Ed and the Blues Imperials, plus DJs like former Longman & Eagle bartender James Deia to perform set while cruising through Berwyn and Oak Park. The response to the community concerts was positive as music gives residents something to latch on to during these troubling days.
Save Our Stages is the name of the campaign aimed at providing support to concert venues during the pandemic. Duncan is aware that not everyone has the same resources that FitzGerald’s has.
“We’re just so fortunate to have this big, beautiful patio on our property,” Duncan says.