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Chicago River Goes Green, But Restaurants Have No Normalcy Without Vaccines

Also, Black and Indigenous restaurant owners can apply for $15,000 grants from the James Beard Foundation

In A Surprise Move, Chicago River Dyed Green Ahead Of St Patrick’s Day
In a surprise move, officials on Saturday allowed the traditional dyeing of the Chicago River.
Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

Chicagoans woke up Saturday to a St. Patrick’s surprise: the Chicago River was green. Mayor Lori Lightfoot had secretly given her approval for the traditional holiday river dyeing after initially cancelling the event due to worries about attracting crowds during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The images brightened the morning. Revelers who lined up at bars Saturday had an extra pep in the step with news crews snapping photos of the green river and posting them all over social media. While the nod to normalcy came as a delight to many, a few local hospitality leaders were not amused.

“People are still dying; the vaccine is not available to all public facing workers,” Jason Hammel of neighborhood beacon Lula Cafe wrote Saturday on Instagram Stories.

Hammel found it hypocritical for the city to create an illusion of normalcy with Saturday’s stunt: “What kind of dystopic example does that set?” Hammel wrote. As restaurants increased indoor capacities over February and March, workers remained ineligible for novel coronavirus vaccinations. The industry continues to wait for Phase 1C which should start on March 29.

The message rang true among other local hospitality leaders, including Julia Momose of Kumiko, the acclaimed Japanese cocktail bar in West Loop. She shared a screenshot of Hammel’s post to her own Instagram Stories.

I don’t like this to be honest. Last year St Patrick’s day made COVID spread all over our city. We are not out of this yet and I hope people run their places properly and guest wear a mask.

Posted by Felipe Ospina on Saturday, March 13, 2021

Earlier in the day, Chicago hospitality veteran Felipe Ospina posted video recorded in front of Cheesie’s/Whiskey Business in Wicker Park of a line with customers not wearing masks. Other industry members chided the scene as evidence of the type of hijinks that will force Gov. J.B. Pritzker to once again halt indoor dining: “We are not out of this yet and I hope people run their places properly and guests wear a mask,” Ospina wrote.

Whiskey Business/Cheesie’s owner Chris Johnston replied that the scene wasn’t as nefarious as it looked. Customers were in line waiting for temperature checks: “We don’t just let everyone rush into their tables,” he wrote.

The Tribune sent out our Louisa Chu to cover the day’s activities. She’s reported that in Wrigleyville, neighborhood bar Slugger’s had a message on its marquee reading “Irish Vaccines Here.” But as the sun set, bar patrons were subdued, a huge difference compared to 2020 when patrons packed establishments across town. Reports of crowded bars helped convince Pritzker to shut down indoor service on March 17, 2020.

In other news...

— Black and Indigenous hospitality operators from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Monday can apply for the James Beard Foundation’s Investment Fund for Black and Indigenous Americans, according to a news release. The fund will provide $15,000 grants to 18 majority-Black and Indigenous-owned food and beverage businesses across six regions, and are furnished on a first-come, first-served basis. More details are available on the foundation’s website.

— Chicago’s Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection cited just one bar for violating COVID-19 regulations over the St. Patrick’s Day weekend: Clutch, the clubby venue at 316 W. Erie Street. Inspectors cited the bar for exceeding the city’s cap on indoor capacity, with 60 customers in a space allocated for a maximum of 50, for allowing more than six people per table, and for failing to properly space out tables six feet apart.

— The more than 200 soldiers staffing the United Center’s mass vaccination site are going hungry as the food supplied through a vendor “hasn’t been adequate,” according to the Sun-Times. Some reported that they have received only a piece of fruit and small salad for meals, though spokespeople say the problem has since been rectified. Many local restaurants fed hospital workers in the early stages of the pandemic, and could again help out at the site, though the complexities of working with the military may stymie such an effort.

United Center

1901 West Madison Street, , IL 60612


630 West Lake Street, , IL 60661 (312) 285-2912 Visit Website

Lula Cafe

2537 North Kedzie Boulevard, , IL 60647 (773) 489-9554 Visit Website