UPTOWN — Chicagoans can’t use the city’s beaches, but they can soon take in the beach from a newly reopened part of the lakefront: restaurants and cafes.
City officials have given lakefront restaurants approval to reopen, effective as of Tuesday, according to business owners. At least five restaurants confirmed they plan to open their doors this week for the first time this summer.
Beachside restaurants fell under the city’s order to close the lakefront during the height of Chicago’s coronavirus pandemic. But as the Lakefront Trail and adjacent parkland has reopened, the beaches and restaurants remained closed.
On Tuesday, restaurant owners got word from the Chicago Park District they would be able to open immediately, said Luke Cholodecki, who co-owns The Dock at Montrose Beach and Caffe Oliva at Ohio Street Beach.
“We’re excited,” Cholodecki said. “The idea of not opening at all this year was depressing to us. The fact that we will be able to open puts a smile on our faces.”
A Park District official confirmed lakefront concession businesses can open this week under the same guidelines for other restaurants in the city.
Lakefront restaurants with patios can open to outdoor seating, and grab-and-go concessions will require customers to buy items and “keep it moving,” Michele Lemons, director of communications for the park district, said in a statement.
“Lifting restrictions on lakefront concessions allows the city to maximize the use of outdoor space while supporting lakefront businesses,” Lemons said.
The Dock at Montrose Beach and Caffe Oliva will open Friday, Cholodecki said. That’s the earliest he could assemble his staff and prep his spaces to reopen.
“We’re scrambling,” Cholodecki said. “We were hoping to open [Thursday], but Friday is more likely.”
Reggies On The Beach, at 63rd Street Beach, will reopen Thursday. North Avenue Beach’s Castaways and Shore Club announced on Facebook they will open Friday. The Lakefront Restaurant at Theater On The Lake will also open Friday.
The restaurants will reopen despite the neighboring beaches still being closed to the public. Lakefront parking lots also remain closed, making some of the restaurants hard to access.
At Reggies, which opened its beach cafe last year, guests will be asked to “keep off the sand at all times,” business owners said on Facebook. Reggies will run its bus shuttle service between its flagship South Loop location and the beach.
The Dock at Montrose Beach, which turns 10 years old this summer, is tucked away in the eastern edge of the harbor. It’s always been more of a neighborhood spot than a tourist destination, Cholodecki said. He’s hoping neighbors will bike to the restaurant, and that people with disabilities will be allowed to access the parking lot that is currently blocked off.
“We’re hidden away, so if you don’t know about us, you won’t eat there,” Cholodecki said.
At Caffe Oliva, the mandated closure helped the restaurant address another problem: rising lake levels.
With Lake Michigan at record levels, Caffe Oliva was routinely flooded, Cholodecki said. A sand berm the restaurant erected last year didn’t do much to help.
The beach has been regraded this year to help with flooding, and Caffe Oliva raised its seating area. Now, the restaurant will get to see if the changes will help.
“We were essentially underwater last year,” Cholodecki said. “We’ll see how the new set-up works.”
After opening this weekend, Cholodecki said his beachfront restaurants will be open for about six to eight weeks of prime summer weather. After that, he’s hoping Chicagoans embrace outdoor dining in milder temperatures as a means of helping the struggling restaurant industry.
Cholodecki, who also co-owns pizzeria and seafood restaurants in Wilmette and another beachfront cafe in Milwaukee, said he would have liked for Chicago’s lakefront dining places to reopen when other restaurants were given the OK for indoor seating in late June.
While they may have missed some of the busier times of the summer beach season, Cholodecki said he’s happy to be open at all.
“I’m not a health expert or scientist, so I always defer to those people,” he said. “Since it’s been determined we can open now, I’m excited.”
Here is the full list of lakefront restaurants scheduled to reopen, starting Thursday, according to the Park District:
- Aug. 6: Park Bait – Montrose
- Aug. 6: Whispers – Oak Street Beach
- Aug. 6: Reggie’s – 63rd Street Beach
- Aug. 6: Theater on the Lake – Fullerton
- Aug. 6: Del Campos – 12th Street Beach
- Aug. 6: Fruitalia – Jane Addams
- Aug. 6: Osho – Museum Campus (Adler)
- Aug. 6: The Dock – Montrose Beach
- Aug. 7: Castaways – North Avenue Beach
- Aug. 7: Shore Club – North Avenue Beach
- Aug. 7: Cafee Oliva – Ohio Street Beach
- Aug. 9: Daniel’s – Foster Beach
- Aug. 9: Morelos – Foster Beach
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