UPDATE: Story has been updated on January 15, noting that the city has concluded its investigation of the matter.
A fire broke out Wednesday night on the second floor at Gibsons, the iconic Chicago steakhouse and bar in Gold Coast. There is some damage to the walls and ceiling but no one was injured, according to the Chicago Fire Department. Firefighters say it started in a gas fireplace and was quickly put out by firefighters. Damage didn’t appear to have spread to the first floor.
Fire at Gibson's steakhouse 1024 N Rush. Fire was on second floor in gas fired fireplace. Quickly put out by CFD. Some damage to walls and ceiling from overheated flue. Patrons evacuated safely. No injuries pic.twitter.com/xCoGu7LE7f— Chicago Fire Media (@CFDMedia) January 14, 2021
Gibsons has operated for nearly 32 years at 1028 N. Rush Street across from Mariano Park. Restaurant staff had left the second-floor windows open overnight for ventilation, and some windows were propped open with wooden chairs. Gibsons’ Liz Lombardo Stark says the fire was caused by a faulty fireplace damper.
The fire raised eyebrows Wednesday night on social media, as the fire department’s tweet mentioned “patrons evacuated safely.” For weeks, locals have complained Gibsons were serving customers indoors and ignoring COVID-19 rules; the state halted indoor dining in Chicago on October 30. Social media posts also show diners eating indoors. Adding to the mystery are the wooden blinds that are closed behind the first-floor windows that keep passers-by curious to what’s happening inside. Gibsons, via a statement sent Thursday morning, says they’ve followed all safety mandates.
City of Chicago inspectors actually visited Gibsons on January 8. BACP spokesperson Isaac Reichman says inspectors found Gibsons to be compliant even though some customers were seated indoors. Regulations allow for indoor dining if there’s a door or window that can be raised which opens a wall by at least 50 percent. Tables are required to be within eight feet of that opening.
Inspectors found Gibsons compliant during last week’s visit. On Friday, BACP concluded a second investigation to determine if the restaurant was complaint on Wednesday. The city found Gibsons “to be in full compliance with COVID-19 regulations, including the prohibition of indoor dining.” In concluding its findings, BACP lauded restaurants that are compliant and encourages Chicagoans to support them.
Gibsons is one of the city’s most popular restaurants — the highest-grossing independent in Chicago, according to Restaurant Business. Since the pandemic struck, they’ve amped up their takeout business while starting to sell fresh meats for the home cook. The company is also waiting to release an update on its plans with celebrity chef José Andrés. The parties are collaborating on a restaurant inside a new downtown skyscraper along the Chicago River. The pandemic has pushed plans back.
Gibsons provided a statement reading that it ”has complied with all of the state and local requirements for dining throughout the pandemic.” The statement highlights the 50 percent rule: “We are committed to the safety of our customers and employees. Our intent is always to follow the rules and regulations set up by state and local officials.”
On Thursday morning, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Chicago could soon restore indoor dining and that her staff intends to talk to Gov. J.B. Pritzker. Before October’s halt, restaurants were permitted to fill their dining rooms at a 25 percent capacity. Pritzker’s staff responded Thursday afternoon saying the city currently doesn’t yet meet the COVID-19 numbers needed to bring back indoor dining.