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Armed With $2.3 Million in Grants, Chicago Pushes Outdoor Dining to More Areas

Chicago Alfresco distributed 75 percent of its funds on the South and West sides

The city wants more neighborhoods to benefit from outdoor dining, not just Lakeview/.
Ashok Selvam/Eater Chicago
Ashok Selvam is the editor of Eater Chicago and a native Chicagoan armed with more than two decades of award-winning journalism. Now covering the world of restaurants and food, his nut graphs are super nutty.

Over the weekend, Lakeview closed down a stretch of Broadway south of Belmont, pedestrianizing the road and turning parts into more patio space for the neighborhood’s restaurants. The practice started last year during the height of the pandemic, offering a creative way for restaurants to survive while indoor dining remained suspended due to fears of increase risk of spreading COVID-19.

Chicago’s expanded outdoor dining program, coordinated between the city and various neighborhood organization proved successful and led the city to develop a second initiative, Chicago Alfresco, that builds upon last year’s pilot, this time with a focus on equity. Street dining was a hit in North Side neighborhoods, but the city was unable to close down roads in places like Pilsen and Chatham.

Last week, Choose Chicago, the city’s tourism arm, announced $2.3 million in grants to 15 community groups including Little Village Community Foundation, Back of the Yards Neighborhood Council, and the Woodlawn Chamber of Commerce. The grants, which range in amount and top out at $250,000, will pay “to open streets and create places for dining, public life, community, arts, culture, walking, and biking.” Basically, the city wants to squeeze the most out of its outdoor spaces so its businesses can take advantage of them during the pandemic and beyond. Associated costs include security, barricades, street furniture, plantings, lighting, and pavement treatments, according to a news release. Some uses include stalls for street food vendors, and temporary platforms that take up parking spots in the street which are used for patio dining.

Restaurant owners didn’t apply for the grants, as that was left to community groups like chambers and special service area providers (SSAs). Of the $2.3 million, about 75 percent went to communities on the South and West sides, according to the city. The grants cover a large swath of the city including Asian on Argyle, the Uptown area that’s home to many Vietnamese restaurants such as Ba Le and Hai Yen.

As more Chicagoans get vaccinated, dining rooms are getting busier. Still, in many places across the country, elected officials are normalizing closed streets, sensing the positive reactions to roadside dining. Restaurant owners in New York are also investing more money in outdoor dining.

The money comes from the makers of Guinness. Diageo approached the city several months ago with a desire to help restaurants. There have been rumblings that the company will be opening a brewpub in Chicago. A Diageo rep tells Eater Chicago they don’t have anything to announce.

Here’s a list of the initial 15 areas and organizations that received grants:

  1. Austin Chamber of Commerce (W Madison St. and W Chicago Ave.): The chamber will install planters and metal partitions to beautify spaces in an area anchored by restaurants.
  2. Back of the Yards Neighborhood Council (W 47th St. & S Honore St.): The Back of the Yards Caminata will create spaces for “dining, lounging, performing, and flexible programming opportunities.”
  3. Greater Chatham Initiative (E 75th St., E 79th St. & E 71st St.): “Eight mobile wood modular rectangular parklet units with street barriers, planters, lighting, tables, and chairs, to promote dining and community activity.”
  4. Lakeview East Chamber of Commerce (N Broadway St.): The Dine Out Program, which returned earlier this month, will now get “planters, lighting, signage, and decorative fencing, and will incorporate arts and music programming.”
  5. Little Village Community Foundation (Perez Plaza): A Mercadito gives space for local artists with a hope “to promote a seasonal market made from semi‐permanent structures that reflect the cultural vibrancy of the various regions on Mexico.”
  6. Logan Square Chamber of Commerce (Woodard Plaza): LED fixtures and picnic tables will encourage folks to dine at Woodard Plaza.
  7. Morgan Park Beverly Hills (103rd St. & Wood St.): The addition of a temporary platform (People Spot) which is usually installed on a parking space and used for outdoor dining.
  8. Northwest Side CDC (W Fullerton Ave. & W Grand Ave.): Street vendors get the benefit of new stalls.
  9. Puerto Rican Cultural Center (W Division St.): The famous Paseo Boricua corridor will see outdoor dining spaces, murals, visually appearing wood kiosks, gathering areas, seating arrangements, furniture, and programming, in at least five unique hubs.
  10. Rogers Park Business Alliance (W Jarvis Ave. & N Glenwood Ave.): Building off last year’s closures, the city will add landscaping, furnishings, and other elements for outdoor dining, moonlight ice cream socials, and a monthly artisan market from May to September.
  11. South Shore Chamber of Commerce (E 71st St.): “Walk ‐Shop‐ Dine” includes planters, patio sets with umbrellas and signage.
  12. South Chicago Parents & Friends (S Commercial Ave.): Installation of a module of structures with art, seats, and planting the stretches a block.
  13. Uptown United (W Argyle St.): Over on Asia on Argyle, there will be expanded outdoor seating.
  14. West Ridge Chamber of Commerce (W Devon Ave.): Few South Asian restaurants in the area have room for outdoor dining, so the chamber will install “pop‐up public plazas” on side streets so diners can enjoy their chaat outdoors.
  15. Woodlawn Chamber of Commerce (E 62nd St. and S Ingleside Ave.): The chamber is revamping what the city calls an “underutilized plaza” making a space for caterers, yoga, teachers, and other businesses.