As COVID-19 Cases Increase, Chicago Restaurants Brace For New Mitigation Rules
Seven weeks after Chicago officials fully reopened the city’s bars and restaurants, the hospitality industry is again bracing for a potential new round of masking rules that could go into effect next week as case rates continue to rise.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday added Cook County to its list of regions seeing “substantial” transmission of the virus, underscoring the Illinois Department of Public Health’s recommendation that residents in public indoor spaces resume wearing facial coverings.
“We are still fighting this virus,” U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth of Illinois writes to Eater Chicago. “The best thing we can do is get vaccinated and defeat this virus, so we can return to normal.”
Duckworth is pushing Congress to refresh the Restaurant Revitalization Fund.
Rodolfo Cuadros (Amaru), who on Friday is opening his new Wicker Park restaurant, Bloom Plant Based Kitchen, says he wouldn’t mind a mask requirement. If officials try to reinstitute capacity restrictions, however, he’d feel quite differently.
“We’re fully expected going back to wearing masks,” Cuadros says. “But we don’t know what else is planned.”
The CDC’s assessment, released the same day that Chicago surpassed the 200 daily case benchmark Mayor Lori Lightfoot referenced earlier this week in a New York Times interview, came just hours after thousands of attendees from across the U.S. flooded Grant Park for the first day of Lollapalooza.
Some local venues aren’t waiting for officials to institute rules. In Ukrainian Village, as unearthed by Reader music writer Leor Galil, music venue and bar Empty Bottle will still let unvaccinated customers onsite. Their latest message urges “unvaccinated guests be masked whenever possible.” That’s not a surprise. But there’s an additional update for the vaccinated, as management asks that they should “wear masks when entering and moving about the venue.”
Skylark, the Pilsen dive bar, shared its policy on Friday morning, briefly writing that “only fully vaccinated people are now welcome at the Skylark.”
Additionally, gay nightclub Hydrate on Friday will start to require that patrons show proof of full COVID-19 vaccination at the door along with their IDs, and Berlin will enforce the same policy when it reopens on Thursday, August 5 in Boystown, according to Block Club Chicago. Bar owners in cities like San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New Orleans are taking the same approach.
Also of note, Lightfoot is expected to soon make vaccines mandatory for city workers. On Thursday, during Lollapalooza, the mayor took the stage telling the crowd, “thank you for masking up and vaxing up.”
This latest resurgence, attributed to the highly infectious delta variant, will also likely exacerbate the economic stress already facing the restaurant industry. The $28.6 billion Restaurant Revitalization Fund, part of the American Rescue Plan stimulus bill that was signed into law in March, ran out of money on June 30.
Additionally, RRF funds allotted by the Small Business Administration to help thousands of business owned by women, veterans, and people considered “socially or economically disadvantaged” were revoked when some white business owners sued, claiming that the prioritization of these specific communities amounted to discrimination. A federal judge in Texas agreed, issuing an injunction preventing the SBA from distributing funds to nearly 3,000 businesses that had already been prioritized.
Duckworth is among lawmakers calling for the SBA to address the precarious financial situation of these businesses. She’s also written to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, asking him to advocate for more relief as the Senate puts together a budget resolution for a “larger, human infrastructure focused bill.”
“I know the relief intended for these restaurant owners has been stymied by an effort outside your control,” Duckworth writes in an open letter to SBA administrator Isabel Guzman. “Nevertheless, I strongly support the SBS using any authority possible to advance the relief programs that Congress has already authorized.”
And in other news…
— Pop-up bar Replay Lincoln Park on Friday launches its latest pop culture event: Marvelous Arcade, a Marvel Comics-themed fest with cosplay pageants with cash prizes, 15 arcade and pinball games like Spider-Man, and arcade games like Marvel Superheroes vs. Street Fighter, and more. Special menus include cocktails like “Wauconda 4ever” (yes, the news release spelled it like the Illinois town, not the fictional African home of Black Panther, Wakanda) and “I Love Your 300;” “I Am Inevitable” and snacks such as “Stan Cur-Lee” fries. The pop-up, which operators emphasize is not sanctioned by Marvel, runs through Monday, September 6 and no tickets or game tokens are required.
It’s another bold move, as pop-ups operators are trying not be sued. An Olympics pop-up in Wicker Park is going on after the owners of Fatpour Tap Works researched their options. Disney, which owns Marvel, has a history of being litigious in Chicago. Just ask the owners of Duk’s Red Hots in West Town. The hot dog stand, founded in 1957, and is now down to one location. It was originally called “Donald Duk’s” before Disney legal muscle forced the name change. Perhaps this is a job for Daredevil’s alter ego, attorney Matt Murdock.
— The Duck Inn in Bridgeport will host two of its annual round-trip boat cruises featuring food and drink inspired by the rivers of Portugal and Spain. The event begins at the Chicago River Walk with cava and conservas, followed by cocktails, dinner, and wine at the Duck Inn. Patrons will then have dessert, vintage port, and Spanish brandy on the way back to the Riverwalk. Tickets ($210) are available online for Thursday, August 12 and Thursday, September 23.