Eater Chicago | Ashok Selvam | May 29, 2020

Mayor Lori Lightfoot also says indoor dining guidelines are coming

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced the city will block off six streets, including Randolph Restaurant Row, to motor vehicles for outdoor dining, giving restaurants more space to serve customers while abiding by social distancing guidelines. The city is calling its plan “Make Way For Diners,” and starting on Monday, restaurants owners can visit the city’s website to apply for these special outdoor dining permits.

Additionally, Lightfoot said she’s in onoing talks with Gov. J.B. Pritzker in regards to the return of indoor dining: “I’m hopeful that very soon we’ll be able to announce specific guidelines on indoor dining,” the mayor said.

When it comes to the “extended outdoor dining program,” Lightfoot said she consulted aldermen, the Illinois Restaurant Association, local neighborhood chambers, and business owners in picking the six locations. They were picked based on proximity to restaurants and impact on vehicular traffic.

The application process will start Monday via the city’s website. Outdoor dining permits are open to local chambers, business associations, special service area providers, and restaurants in groups of three.

Illinois Restaurant Association CEO & President Sam Toia called open roads a “pragmatic and crucial step forward” as restaurants move toward resuming indoor dining. 42nd Ward Ald. Brendan Reilly represents parts of the Loop, River North, and Streeterville. He was one of the City Council members who helped pick the streets.

“This is an important first step to prove we can operate restaurants in a safe and responsible way,” he said.

Lightfoot said more information will be released for interested applicants in the coming days. These are the six locations to be closed off for outdoor dining:

  • Chatham: 75th Street (Calumet to Indiana)
  • Lakeview: Broadway Street (Belmont to Diversey)
  • Little Italy: Taylor Street (Loomis to Ashland)
  • Little Village: 26th Street (Central Park to Harding)
  • Rush Street (Oak to Cedar)
  • Randolph Street’s side service streets in West Loop (West of the Kennedy Expressway to Elizabeth)

Randolph Restaurant Row is the most high profile of the bunch, home of trendy restaurants like Girl & the Goat, Leña Brava, and Bar Siena. The city is open to expanding the program to more intersections. Still, outdoor dining isn’t an option for every restaurant. For example, a spokesperson for ChowBus, a third-party delivery company that specializes in working with Chinese restaurants, said she didn’t think any of the company’s clients had patios. Wentworth Avenue could be a prime street for an open road in Chinatown, if traffic behaves.

But Lightfoot, as she’s known to do, warned Chicagoans that outdoor dining is privilege, one that could be revoked if residents don’t observe social distancing guidelines.

“We cannot allow these open streets to turn into street festivals and we will not,” Lightfoot said. “These are for seated dining only.”

The city also has continued to issue sidewalk patio licenses, as they’ve processed 400 so far this year. There are 400 pending, according to Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection Commissioner Rosa Escareno. She added that the permit process takes two to four weeks. But the city will expedite permits during the pandemic. Lightfoot said the city will waive patio permit fees, as the city wants to bring as many restaurants back as possible.

Toia is still pushing for indoor dining, repeating that outdoor dining won’t help all of the association’s members. That includes tavern owners. Bars that don’t serve food are excluded for outdoor dining and will remain closed.

“People, as we all know, lose their inhibitions when they’re drinking. It’s more difficult to follow social distancing guidance,” Lightfoot said.

In other booze news, the mayor also announced restaurants would be able to serve alcohol beyond the 9 p.m. cut-off period instituted in April. Stores would still have to abide by the curfew. Lightfoot said diners will able to take advantage of to-go cocktails sold by bars. To-cocktails won’t be legal in Chicago until mid-June, at the earliest. But this could lead to collaborations with restaurants and bars.

Stephanie Hart’s Brown Sugar Bakery stands along 75th Street, one of the six streets marked for outdoor dining. Lightfoot said she’s a big fan of Hart’s caramel cake: “Off the chain; great stuff,” the mayor said. Hart is pumped for next week.

“This is needed,” she said. “It is a time for us to start giving some hope to our community. I am so excited to see tables outside — it’s not perfect — there are no perfect solutions, but it is us getting the opportunity to move forward.”