Owners of an Old Town fixture have temporarily closed the restaurant after video surfaced over the weekend showing a large indoor gathering of unmasked patrons dancing, drinking, and partying. The violation of COVID-19 safety regulations has thrust Lan’s Old Town — a relic of the ‘80s for Chinese-American food, late-night dance parties, boozy drinks, and karaoke — into the spotlight, and now ownership acknowledges that hosting the party was a mistake.
A since-removed video posted to Reddit over the weekend documented a party of more than 60 people inside the restaurant at 1507 N. Sedgwick Street, according to Block Club Chicago. No one in the video is wearing a mask, save for Lan’s co-owner Jimmy Ma, whose mask is pushed down to his chin. Ma’s charismatic demeanor is well known to loyal customers as over the course of three decades, as he’s often drank with patrons and sang karaoke. A pre-pandemic photo on the restaurant’s website shows a crowded and dimly-lit room that illustrates Lan’s usual nocturnal scene — a far cry from a “typical” Chinese-American carryout operation.
In the video taken on Saturday night, Ma pours alcohol directly from a bottle into several customers’ mouths. He told reporters on Monday that the party took place on the night of Saturday, January 9, and that he’s been hosting private weekend gatherings with a maximum capacity of 35 — another violation of the city’s ban on indoor service.
Ownership has since stated that the party shouldn’t have happened, in a statement that they hosted the parties to survive the pandemic. The restaurant is closed until further notice. Jeffery Ma, Jimmy’s Ma’s son, writes to Eater Chicago that he doesn’t know when it will return.
“We have reached out to the city of Chicago to reach a resolution,” a statement provided by Jeffery Ma reads, that’s also posted on the restaurant’s website and Facebook. “We have operated Lan’s in our community for more than a decade. While we recognize that we should not have hosted the party, the decision was made out of desperation. COVID-19 has ravaged restaurants in our community and many are unable to survive. It was wrong to resort to these desperate actions. We will close temporary while we consider our options.”
Lan’s first opened in ‘80s, and developed a reputation for dance parties that raged late into the night, rankling neighbors who complain about noise and broken bottles on the sidewalk. The venue was known more for its parties than its cuisine. Ownership opened a second restaurant, U Rice, in 2016 in Lincoln Park — a short distance from Lan’s. That restaurant was short lived.
Officials with the city’s Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection (BACP) in a statement assert they first became aware of the party at Lan’s on Monday and are now investigating the incident.
“As we continue to deal with the impacts of the deadly COVID-19 pandemic, irresponsible actors that hold large gatherings are recklessly putting their community at risk,” BACP’s statement reads. “While BACP was not made aware of this party prior to or during the weekend, this matter remains under investigation, and BACP will continue working hard to crack down on problem businesses that egregiously flaunt COVID-19 regulations and disregard the health of our community.”
The dire economic straits Ma describes are familiar to Chicago bar and restaurant owners, — including those of the Chicago Restaurants Coalition, an advocacy group of restaurant owners and caterers organized by the Fulton Market Association. Members want Gov. J.B. Pritzker to restore indoor dining at 20 percent capacity by January 29, the Sun-Times reports.
At a Tuesday press conference, coalition members called for Mayor Lori Lightfoot and all 50 aldermen to put pressure on the governor to end the ban on indoor dining. Earlier this month, Pritzker announced that he is “cautiously optimistic” that the state could lift some COVID-19 restrictions, including an indoor dining ban, as early as mid-January. That outcome seems unlikely, as NPR’s Hannah Meisel reports that lifting the ban would require three days in a row of a region testing under a 6.5 percent positivity rate.
And in other news...
— Illinois residents may be able to order at-home booze delivery through third-party companies like Grubhub, thanks to a bill that state legislators “overwhelmingly” support, according to the Tribune. It would not extend delivery allowances to craft breweries and distilleries. The measure, which was previously passed by the state Senate and was approved in the state House on Tuesday, now awaits signature from Gov. Pritzker. In TK, the state lifted restrictions that barred restaurants from selling cocktails to go. It was a temporary lifeline during the pandemic and barred third parties from making deliveries.
— Fans of underground dining group Sunday Dinner Club will be able to get their hands on the recipe for its signature dish, cassoulet, thanks to a new zine packed with how-tos, illustrations, memories, and more. It’s called Cassoulet, and was created by Sunday Dinner Club founders Josh Kulp and Christine Cikowski (Honey Butter Fried Chicken), writer Maggie Hennessy (an Eater Chicago contributor), cookbook author and Plate editor Chandra Ram, and artist Silvia Hidalgo. The zine is available for purchase via Kickstarter. Sunday Dinner Club is also selling its cassoulet for the first time in 16 years to the general public.
— Chicago snack brand Vitner’s will be sold to Pennsylvania-based chip empire Utz Brands for $25 million, the Trib reports. A family-run company founded in 1926 on the South Side, Vintner’s (originally the C.J. Vitner Company) was bought by California-based Snak King in 2011. Utz plans to move manufacturing of Vitner’s products to its own facilities after the sale.
— In a case of surprising bedfellows, health-focused food vendor Farmer’s Fridge this week launched a three-month pilot program in partnership with Dunkin’ Donuts, according to a rep. Customers at three pilot locations will find seven options from the Farmer’s Fridge menu, such as Greek salads, burrito bowls, and apple cinnamon oats, stocked in Dunkin’ refrigerators. Chicago’s pilot locations are: 1651 W. Roosevelt in the Illinois Medical District; 3310 W. Addison in Irving Park; and 3801 W. Belmont in Avondale.