CHICAGO — Bars across Chicago reopened this weekend — and people in Wrigleyville lined up to celebrate.
On Saturday night, Clark Street felt and looked much like it did on a normal summer night before coronavirus upended the city, though social distancing and new guidelines are part of the new normal. As patrons bounced from bar to bar in packs, some donned face masks. Many did not.
Crowds waited in long lines with little to no adherence to the 6-feet social distancing guidelines recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Some people said they do have worries about the pandemic and are concerned they’re part of the problem as cases rise throughout the country — but others said they’re young and wanted to get out during the summer.
Measures like the stay at home order and the closures of bars and restaurants in March were credited with helping Chicago and the rest of Illinois slow the spread of coronavirus, but the city and state are now reopening.
Bars were allowed to reopen for outdoor service in mid-June and indoor service when Chicago entered Phase 4 of reopening Friday.
At the same time, Texas and Florida, which lifted restrictions earlier than Illinois, reversed course this weekend amid surges in coronavirus cases. They’ve ordered their bars to close.
And health officials across the country are asking young people to wear masks and social distance because COVID-19 transmission among teens and young adults is driving the record outbreaks in several states. Local health officials have said cases are growing among Chicago’s teens and young adults, too.
Chicago is still seeing an overall decline in new cases and deaths, officials have said, and they’ve implemented guidelines to try to prevent those numbers from rising.
Chicago’s restaurants and bars can reopen for indoor dining and drinking, but only at 25 percent capacity, with a cap of 50 people, for example.
Gathering at Wrigleyville bars on Saturday was limited to socially distanced tables for groups, and patrons were not allowed to wander around. Bouncers used counters and a heightened sense of awareness to monitor the space.
Bouncer Mike Fotelo was manning the door at Moe’s Cantina and said patrons were very accommodating and understanding, respecting the new rules.
Bargoers are required to wear a mask when entering the bars and when moving around inside. Each seated group can be no larger than 10 people. Many establishments opted to close earlier than they had before the pandemic.
Precautionary measures were being implemented at all bars, though there was some discrepancy and confusion between each venue on enforcement.
One bartender, who asked to remain anonymous, was happy to be back behind the bar, although he’s concerned about enforcing social distancing as it is hard to do so when alcohol is involved, he said.
Jenee Jenkins, a bartender and server at The Roost Carolina Kitchen, said she appreciates the patrons she had come in contact with, whom she described as being understanding and tipping well, while asking her how she felt about being back at work.
“We were really careful with reopening … . [The managers] really care about our safety and our health,” Jenkins said. “Our focus is just making sure that everybody stays safe and healthy and is able to have a good time and enjoy our food.”
Tables in the restaurant were kept 6 feet apart and no standing area was allotted at the bar.
Up the street at Sluggers World Class Sports Bar, Alex Marin checked IDs and gave face masks to patrons who did not have them.
Marin said while patrons were easier going, the pandemic presented new tasks, especially for the bartenders. Not only do bartenders have their regular duties, they also have to monitor to ensure there are fewer than 50 patrons in each section of the bar, among other social distancing tactics.
Mike, from Old Town, who did not want to share his last name, ordered a vodka Red Bull before getting back in line with friends at Old Crow Smokehouse’s curbside bar. He had just gotten back from a vacation in Dallas, Texas, with a friend, where he left a day early due to the spike in cases and the state’s rolling back on its openings.
“[It feels] like I’m the problem,” he said with a nervous laugh as he talked about being out and about amid the pandemic. Looking around at the throngs of people drinking and walking around Wrigleyville, he said it is concerning.
Outside Vines on Clark, a patron said he felt guilty as things are going back to what he described as “normal.” Then he joined his friends on the patio.
Wicker Park resident Zach Zerrudo, who is a medical professional, said going out Saturday night tore him from two sides.
“I have my youth, and I have my career,” he said. The young medical professional said he has concerns about cases, though he said it is the summer and it is good to see people wearing masks.
“It’s something else,” he said.
Cicero-based rapper THA BADSEED spent Saturday night walking with friends and his goat, Gummy, on Clark Street to uplift spirits amid the negativity he’s seen in Chicago.
“I’m trying to bring some smiles to the communities of Chicago,” the rapper said. Goat at their side, the group floated along the street for hours, drawing attention and requests for photos.
Sage, from Highland Park, and Zack Jenkins, of Winnetka, stood outside of Deuce’s Major League Bar waiting for a table, among many other patrons who congregated in an almost mask-less crowd. The duo — who wore masks — gave credit to local bars for their handling of social distancing and reflected on what it was like to be out after months in quarantine.
“A breath of fresh air is an understatement,” Sage said. “Quarantine has been extremely long. I love the fact that we’re easing into it but still making sure we’re abiding by those guidelines. Obviously we’re not there, we still got a little bit of a ways to go, but I think Chicago is handling it pretty well.”
“We were doing the protests and [expletive]. Now we’re partying, looking for chicks,” Jenkins said.
Block Club Chicago’s coronavirus coverage is free for all readers. Block Club is an independent, 501(c)(3), journalist-run newsroom.
Subscribe to Block Club Chicago. Every dime we make funds reporting from Chicago’s neighborhoods.