While Chicago has not instituted a mask mandate, more of the city’s restaurants and bars are announcing changes in house rules with many saying they’ll only serve customers who show proof of vaccination. Over the weekend, the city did issue new guidance that recommends facial covering for everyone passing through indoor public places.
Restaurants were bracing for stricter rules as capacity restrictions and table spacing affect the bottom line. With the industry still in a financial daze from the last year, many feared that Chicago would bring back old rules put in place during the pandemic’s peak.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Chicago Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady appeared at a rare Sunday morning news conference to explain the new mask guidance, which matches rules suggested last week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The city has “no goal or current plans to close down Chicago again,” Arwady said.
The city’s mantra is “we can be open and can be careful.”
Those comments may make diners more comfortable with eating at restaurants using the correct precautions. Likewise, this could create calm for restaurant owners worried about more drastic rules on the horizon. Chicago’s restaurant scene experienced a renaissance this summer when restrictions lifted in June. Arwady described that as Chicago “enjoying well-controlled COVID over the last few months.”
Still, Michael Roper, owner of Hopleaf Bar in Andersonville, posted an update on Facebook Saturday writing that “another round of capacity restrictions and closures will be the death knell for us and many of yours and our favorite dining, drinking and entertainment venues.”
“Since the CDC vaccination cards are easily copied and counterfeited anyway, we are, for the time being, not going to make them a requirement for entry,” the post reads. “However, if you are not vaccinated, please stay away. If you show symptoms, stay home.”
Vaccine cards were apparently for sale over the weekend to get unvaccinated Lollapalooza fans through the gates at Grant Park. Like at Windy City Smokeout, held earlier in July outside United Center, festival staff weren’t verifying the names on cards. During Sunday’s news conference, Lightfoot praised the music festival’s staff for working with city health experts. Though she did not cite the source of her numbers, Lightfoot said 90 percent of attendees had been vaccinated.
For now, Cole’s Bar in Logan Square is cancelling its comedy nights after a vaccinated customer informed them they were infected. Operators posted that the bar is “reinstating social distancing protocols” even though staff tested negative.
On Sunday, 2Bears Tavern Group (Meeting House Tavern, The Sofo Tap) sent out an email blast stating that starting Tuesday, its bars will require proof — either a vaccine card, a copy, or a photo of one, or a record via a medical provider app. The newsletter also threatened that customers attempting to pass along fake documents would be banned from all venues.
“Our entire team is vaccinated. You should be too,” the email concludes.
Inspiring consumer confidence also comes into play. In Fulton Market, staff from Ever, the fine dining restaurant from James Beard winner Curtis Duffy, posed for an Instagram post with a caption: “100% Vaxed 100% Masked.”
The Tribune spoke with more restaurant and bar owners requiring masks. Four Moon Tavern in Roscoe Village has a mask requirement and vaccines for those sitting at the bar. Mfk, the Spanish seafood restaurant in Lakeview, is closed indefinitely after news of a breakthrough case involving a staff member.
“We are devastated by this news, having made every effort to be as safe as possible since the pandemic began,” Mfk’s Instagram account reads. “We have only been reopen for six weeks of service after having been shut down for 16 months, so this decision was not made lightly.”
Co-owner Scott Worsham tells Eater Chicago that he’s hopeful the restaurant could open on August 12.
A breakthrough case is when a vaccinated person tests positive for COVID-19. On Sunday, Arwady acknowledged breakthroughs but countered that 99.99 percent of vaccinated Chicagoans have not been hospitalized, and that 97 percent of hospitalizations due to COVID-19 are coming from folks how haven’t been fully vaccinated.
Arwady added that the current increase in cases is similar to the “mini surge” Chicago experienced in April with eight or nine new hospitalizations a day.
Chicago will wait to see how Lollapalooza will affect the city’s COVID-19 numbers. That might take a week before city officials will share any data.
Many restaurants are waiting for the federal government to fully approve COVID-19 vaccines which have been administered under emergency approval. Full approval would give businesses more legal options to require mandates.