Chicago’s restaurants and bars can now seat a maximum of six per table — a two-person increase. The change comes just over a week after officials allowed restaurants and bars to reopen for limited indoor dining in the city and its surrounding suburbs. However, the capacity limits will remain intact, even though the city on Sunday moved into Phase 4, of the state’s reopening plan.
Despite the positive momentum, officials and health care experts are concerned that a rush to expand dine-in service in the city could result in another spike in COVID-19 cases and deaths.
The city has lifted its nonessential services curfew. Still, it will require restaurants to keep indoor capacity at 25 percent or 25 people per room. In other parts of the state capacity has increased to 40 percent or less than 50 patrons. The city is taking a more cautious approach.
Phase 4 also allows indoor recreational operations like skating rinks and bowling alleys to reopen, but they must stop serving alcohol by 11 p.m. and close by midnight.
While big progress has been made, in order to keep easing restrictions, we have to keep following the public health guidance we know works: wearing masks, physical distancing, and washing hands. More info ➡️ https://t.co/XBsloiF4mU pic.twitter.com/2H6Ozwck8z— Chicago (@chicago) January 31, 2021
Though the Illinois Restaurant Association continues to call for officials to increase that capacity, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said in a statement to the Sun-Times that it would be “irresponsible” to allow too many patrons back inside restaurants too quickly, noting that cases and positivity rates are still higher than they were before the second surge of COVID-19 in late October. The city’s seven-day positivity rate currently hovers at 6 percent. Statewide rules require that the city reach a positivity rate of 6.5 percent or less for three consecutive days before capacity mitigations could be relaxed.
The weekend’s snowstorm likely kept customers at home, but health experts are still worried. There are positive trends with the presence of vaccines and decreasing numbers leading the government to relax mitigation rules. Despite that good news, doctors say this is one of the most dangerous times of the pandemic: the disease is still infecting too many and threatens to overburden health care systems. They point to October’s spike — and the subsequent suspension of indoor dining — and how it took about four weeks to undo that damage. Now isn’t the time for complacency.
The restoration of indoor dining has left many members of the local hospitality industry wondering when they will be prioritized for coronavirus vaccines, given the risk of their exposure to the public. The city is tentatively targeting March 29 for the start of 1C, the next stage of vaccination efforts targeted at essential workers who weren’t covered by prior phases, as well as people ages 16 to 64 with underlying conditions. Chicago’s vaccine distribution program is currently in its second stage (1B), which includes health care and nursing home workers, non-frontline essential workers like grocery and liquor store employees, food manufacturers, and brewery and distillery workers.
And in other news...
— Plans for the resurrection of iconic Chicago club Double Door continue as the City Council last week approved plans for a move to Uptown, according to Block Club Chicago. Chicago-based firm Cedar Street aims to redevelop the historic Wilson Theater as part of a development at Wilson and Kenmore and replace its parking lot with a 62-unit apartment building. The legendary Wicker Park club was evicted from its Milwaukee Avenue home in 2017 after 23 years.
— A raffle held over the weekend to benefit the Abundance Setting raised $1,675. The Secret Donut Society pop-up, with Marz Community Brewing and Tubers Donuts, teamed up to help the charity that helps bring awareness to mothers in the restaurants sector.
— Chicago bartender Davíd Leon Jr. of Logan Square’s the Walk In is among six drink experts featured in Culture Shakers, a short film by Jamaican filmmaker Storm Saulter (Sprinter) about the history of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous People of Color) in the cocktail industry, Chicago Reader reports. The film is a component of Jack Daniel’s Gentleman Jack’s Culture Shakers program, a multiculturalism initiative designed to highlight Black and Latinx bartenders and their contributions to the industry.
— Super Bowl Sunday is traditionally a huge day for Hopleaf in Andersonville, a rare tavern without a TV. Patrons don’t care about football, they’re at the bar for rare and strong stouts. Hopleaf has created an annual event, Super Stout Sunday, where staff taps rare kegs and customers crowd the bar. Even though it’s not a sports bar, Hopleaf still draws a crowd with creative marketing. COVID-19 has Hopleaf trying a to-go version of the event, where the kitchen will serve chili made with Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Stout. They’ll also serve growlers of Goose Island, with 2016 to 2020 vintages available.