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Chicago Nixes St. Patrick’s Day Parades, Scarred by Visions of Defiant 2020 Revelers

Last year, the sight of crowded bars pushed Gov. J.B. Pritzker toward the first shutdown

The Chicago River Goes Green For St. Patrick’s Day 2019
This was the scene in Chicago in 2019, as it looks like bars won’t have a St. Patrick’s Day Parade to boost business in 2021.
Photo By Raymond Boyd/Getty Images

Chicago officials are determined not to let last year’s scene repeat, when revelers crowded bars to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, angering Gov. J.B. Pritzker and other elected officials worried about the spread of COVID-19. Now a year later, a member of Chicago’s City Council says the city has canceled the annual St. Patrick’s Day parade for the second-straight year.

Meanwhile, organizers of the South Side Irish Parade say their event also won’t take place, according to the Sun-Times, which broke the story on Tuesday. That parade was scheduled for March 14.

Ald. (2nd Ward) Brian Hopkins, tells reporters that clearer messaging is needed this year, as Chicago has better sense of what to expect from COVID-19. In 2020, Mayor Lori Lightfoot canceled the downtown parade a week before the event, confusing restaurant and bar owners when it came to the seriousness of the novel coronavirus; the disease hadn’t yet become a household name across America. Bar owners took that as tacit approval from City Hall to go ahead with hosting large parties, ignoring the pleas of health experts. Others anticipated a lockdown and saw the holiday as a chance for one last big score before what would be the first shutdown. Some partied in defiance, holding signs that mocked the virus which has gone on to infect more than 450,000 and kill 9,546 in Cook County.

The scene made Pritzker furious. Event organizers began canceling plans and restaurants — including the city’s top fine dining destination, Alinea — announced they were closing their dining rooms. Pritzker would announce on March 15, 2020, that the state would close all on-premise service for restaurants and bars for two weeks to curb the spread of COVID-19. The shut down would actually extend to June in Chicago, when outdoor dining returned to the city.

The hospitality lobby spent much of 2020 repairing trust, trying to assure elected officials and state and city doctors that restaurants and bar owners could responsibly operate their venues. The South Side parade annually brings big business to restaurants and bars in neighborhoods like Beverly, Morgan Park, and Mount Greenwood. The parade’s chairman tells the Sun-Times that he’s worried about the impact on those already struggling venues.

Still, some events remain scheduled, including a bar crawl in River North. The organizer, a company called Wami Live, promises to follow CDC standards, including mask wearing — there’s nothing about city and state rules. No participating bars were listed for the event scheduled for March 13. Another bar crawl page, from the Chicago Daily Event List, includes this copy: “Bars will be flooded, the streets will be packed, and the atmosphere will be awesome!” Last year, the city denied a permit for Chicago’s most infamous bar crawl, the Christmas-themed TBOX.

The holiday has the potential to be chaotic as the city restored indoor service for bars and restaurants last month with a 25 percent capacity cap or 25-customer room limit (which ever number is lower). Keeping track of social distancing and mask wearing is difficult for many on normal days without St. Patrick’s Day hijinks, which are enhanced by alcohol. The city requires patrons to be seated at bars and restaurants, but many operators have ignored those rules, allowing customers to stand and mingle. Bartenders are also supposed to wear masks at all times without showing off their nostrils. Outdoor events don’t have capacity limits, but structures like tents are supposed to have openings to allow air to move.

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