Navy Pier, one of Chicago’s most visited tourist attractions along the edge of Lake Michigan, is slated to close on Labor Day due to a lack of business during the pandemic. Folks are staying away during the COVID-19 crisis. It’s the second time the pier has closed since March. Monday, September 7 is closing day.
The shutdown will impact more than 70 restaurants, bars, and other businesses inside the complex. The move’s designed to cut down on costs as pier attendance has dropped to around 15 to 20 percent of an average summer due to the pandemic, according to Time Out Chicago and multiple other media reports. Officials have announced plans to reopen in spring, but have not specified a date.
The inevitable shift toward cooler weather always decreases the number of visitors at Navy Pier, and closing in September will help limit financial losses, Navy Pier President and CEO Marilynn Gardner tells the Tribune. A nonprofit, the pier was already expecting to fall $20 short of anticipated revenues in 2020. The initial shutdown lasted from March 16 to June 10, when outdoor spaces reopened, and indoor operations relaunched June 26.
Though there are chains aplenty at Navy Pier — think Dippin’ Dots, Potbelly, and Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. — the tourist destination is also home to Chicago-based spots including an outpost of Grand Crossing’s Brown Sugar Bakery, mammoth bar and deck Offshore, and an arm of local icon the Original Rainbow Cone. Among them is Tiny Tavern, a cocktail spot with American pub fare, that’s a sister spot to Tiny Tapp & Cafe on the Chicago Riverwalk. Partner Colleen Flaherty tells the Trib that she’s relieved that Navy Pier officials decided to close again, as the math just doesn’t work out: the restaurant is seeing only 14 percent of last summer’s sales, and the costs of operations exceed the trickle of revenue coming in.
Navy Pier pays $1 in rent a year, as prolific local bar industry Twitter account Chicagobars notes. If Navy Pier can’t sustain itself with that sweet lease deal, what chance do Chicago’s other restaurants and bars have to survive through the pandemic? Navy Pier also received $2.5 million in federal Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) funds. Still, 20 percent of its staff were laid off in late July, and there are more layoffs or furloughs to come, according to the Trib.
Veteran Chicago restaurant owner Phil Stefani also runs Riva Crab House, the Miller Lite Beer Garden, and catering for events inside Navy Pier’s Crystal Gardens. Labor Day Weekend is usually a big money maker for the restaurants. Stefani COO Steven Hartenstein wrote on his Facebook page: “We need your support more than ever. I promise we will exceed your expectations each and every day as we have since 1995. This closing is unfortunately out of our control and due to finances at Navy Pier.”
In other news...
— Five more Chicago restaurants and bars were shut down over the weekend for violating the city’s pandemic rules including capacity restrictions, licensing, hours, and face coverings, according to a Chicago Business Affairs and Consumer Protection Department news release. Barba Yianni Greek Tavern in Lincoln Square, Southwest Side spot Juanita’s Restaurant #2, Retro Cafe in Portage Park, Cragin’s Estrella Blanca Nightclub, and Second Time Around in Dunning all received citations, and on Monday officials reported that city inspectors pursued 101 investigations and issued 14 citations to a total of seven businesses for violating the city’s rules. The city has been increasingly more transparent in how its enforcing coronavirus rules by revealing the names of businesses inspectors have ticketed.
— Onward, the upscale Rogers Park restaurant from the owner of Japanese fine dining spot Yugen and ex-owner of three Michelin-starred Grace, was graffitied in late July with the phrase “I [heart] gentrifiers” on its front window, according to Block Club Chicago. The writing is still visible on the window at 6580 N. Sheridan Road because the paint was mixed with acid, etching the phrase permanently onto the glass, owner Michael Olszewski tells reporters. He opened the restaurant in 2018 near Loyola University’s Rogers Park campus, though the restaurant has remained closed since March when the pandemic shuttered dining rooms across the city and state. The tagger did not elaborate on their message, and Olszewski — a Loyola alumnus — told Block Club that he disputes the characterization. He says he was approached by the university to open a restaurant on its property at Sheridan Road and Albion Avenue, which he describes as a longtime commercial area.
— Bixi Beer, the Logan Square brewpub that recently opened up a sidewalk street food stall with caloric delights like double-corn fried cheese, has announced a new brewmaster. They’ve brought on Andrew Mason, formerly of Three Floyds Brewing Co. and Solemn Oath Brewery. Bixi is owned by chef Bo Fowler (Owen & Engine, Fat Willy’s Rib Shack). Mason’s old boss at Three Floyds, Nick Floyd, lives down the street from Bixi. From 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesday, Bixi will unveil a new collaborative beer brewed with Floyd. Perhaps this is the start of a deeper venture.
— In other news, last month Piece Pizza’s head brewer Jonathan Cutler left the Wicker Park brewpub. The departure was sudden. Cutler enjoyed much success while at Piece, earning several Great American Beer Festival medals during his long tenure.