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Chicago’s Bars Are Open but Illegal Parties Are Still Cropping Up Around Town

Plus, local businesses say “nyet” to Russian spirits and Portillo’s heads to Dallas

A bright pink drink is poured from a shaker into a martini glass.
Chicago’s indoor drinking bans are over but unlicensed parties remain.
Garrett Sweet/Eater Chicago

Chicago has seen a notable rise in illegal parties since the early stages of the pandemic, with revelers gathering, often unmasked and shoulder-to-shoulder, in vacant spaces that organizers transform into unlicensed clubs. In 2020, many attributed the issue to a ban on indoor dining and drinking due to COVID-19. But even as the city’s bars and clubs have resumed somewhat normal operations, the secret social club parties have continued, sometimes with tragic results.

The city shut down three such clubs in recent months after two shootings, including one in December that killed an attendee, 19-year-old Meagan Bilbo, and left two others wounded. Now elected officials say these parties and the clubs that run them are cropping up all over town, Block Club Chicago reports. The emergence of such events in 2020 prompted the city to create a task force to identify and shut them down. That year it issued more than 50 tickets for operating without a license and nearly 70 cease-and-desist orders, a rep told reporters. In 2021, those numbers leaped to 75 license violations and 101 cease-and-desist orders.

Some of the earliest incidents of such events, which at the time flew in the face of pandemic mandates that left bar and club operators with extremely limited cashflow, came to light in late 2020. In November, police broke up a 300-person rager at at the Bedford, a former restaurant on the northwest corner of Ashland and Division, where participants ignored the city’s Thanksgiving advisory for Chicagoans to stay at home. The next month, the city shut down a 142-person “Wicker Loft” event on Milwaukee Avenue, complete with a bouncer and line of would-be partiers.

Chicagoans join national movement to say “nyet” to Russian liquor

Local bars, restaurants, and liquor stores are joining the sanctions against Russia by refusing to sell Russian liquors. Grand Duke’s, a Lithuanian restaurant in suburban Downer’s Grove, has converted its stock of Beluga Vodka into hand sanitizer, WGN 9 reports. Meanwhile, Binny’s Beverage Depot announced on Monday that it was removing all Russian-made products from its stores, but not all vodka: “Many vodkas, even those with Russian-sounding names are made in places close to home,” Greg Versch, a store spokesman, told NBC 5. (Stoli, for example, is actually Latvian, and Smirnoff is owned by a British company and produced in suburban Plainfield.)

They join a nationwide movement within the liquor industry. Several state governors have asked state-run liquor stores to stop selling Russian spirits, and the Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission (OLCC) announced on Monday that it will start sequestering Russian-owned and -produced vodkas in its distribution center and has asked stores to take them off the shelves. KGB Bar, a Soviet-themed bar in New York City, publicly dumped all its Russian beer in favor of Ukrainian brands.

Ontario Banning Russian Products From LCBO Shelves Over Ukraine Invasion
Russian Standard vodka will no longer be sold at Binny’s.
Photo by Creative Touch Imaging Ltd./NurPhoto via Getty Images

Portillo’s is opening in Texas, y’all

Portillo’s, the Chicago fast food joint beloved for its hot dogs, Italian beef, and chocolate cake, will open its first location in Texas later this year, the Dallas Morning News reports, in Warren Buffett’s Grandscape development in The Colony outside of Dallas. It will be the first of 18 to 20 Portillo’s locations CEO Michael Osanloo plans to open in the Dallas-Fort Worth area in the next five years. In related news, Osanloo confirmed Portillo’s identity to the Morning News once and for all: “It is not a hot dog place. It is an Italian beef place.” Glad that’s settled.

Portillo’s filed for its IPO in September and plans to expand to 600 restaurants; it currently has 67 locations across eight states.

A Chicago icon, the steakhouse, was hit hard by the pandemic

Of all the restaurant sectors that have taken a hit during the pandemic, Crain’s reports, few have had it harder than steakhouses. In the past two years, the number of steakhouses in the city has dropped from 52 to 37, with losses including Ruth’s Chris in River North, Morton’s on State Street, and the venerable Lawry’s just off Michigan Avenue. The primary steakhouse clientele — business travelers with expense accounts and people celebrating something — has dried up, and steak does not travel well as a to-go meal.

Hyde Park bartender stabbed to death

Diego Damis, 41, a regular-turned-bartender at the Cove in Hyde Park, was stabbed to death in Kenwood early Friday morning as he was walking home from work, the Sun-Times reports. Damis, who immigrated to Chicago from Italy in 2015, was known throughout the neighborhood for his generosity and propensity for feeding his co-workers and customers. His friends have set up a GoFundMe campaign to help his family pay for funeral arrangements, and the Cove will be holding a candlelight vigil in his memory this Friday night, March 4.

Arrest made in string of robberies of Asian-owned business in Uptown

An Uptown man has been arrested in connection with a string of burglaries of Asian-owned businesses on and around Argyle Street in February, Block Club reports. Larry Banks, 48, was accused of breaking into and stealing money from Immm Rice & Beyond on February 21 and two other businesses on Argyle on February 12. The burglars of the other restaurants — Nhu Lan Bakery & Sandwiches, China Cafe, and Hunan Egg Roll King — remain at large.

Morton's The Steakhouse

618 Church Street, , TN 37219 (615) 259-4558 Visit Website

Lawry's The Prime Rib

100 East Ontario Street, , IL 60611 (312) 787-5000 Visit Website

Nhu Lan Bakery & Sandwiches

4810 North Sheridan Road, , IL 60640 (773) 944-9288

Portillo's

520 West Taylor St, Chicago, IL 60607 (312) 667-4560 Visit Website

Immm Rice & Beyond

4949 North Broadway, , IL 60640 (773) 293-7378 Visit Website

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