Chad Willets, co-owner of the nearby Le Piano, in front of terra cotta pieces salvaged from the Heartland Cafe. Credit: Jonathan Ballew/Block Club Chicago

ROGERS PARK — The jazz club and restaurant Le Piano may open for its second anniversary this month, defying an indoor dining ban that the business owner likened to “a woman’s essential right to choose.”

Le Piano, 6970 N. Glenwood Ave., turns two years old this month. To mark the occasion, owner Chad Willetts said he is considering reopening the business Nov. 20.

That could mean the business would not be in compliance with Gov. JB Pritzker’s indoor service ban on bars and restaurants. Willetts said Pritzker’s order is an arbitrary restriction that unfairly burdens such businesses.

In a 1,000-word Facebook post, Willetts questioned the governor’s definition of “essential,” saying “broad stroke restrictions” could lead to civil unrest and said a “parallel analogy” to the situation is access to abortion.

“A woman’s essential right to choose grants a personal responsibility that affords a basic and dignified format upon which she determines what is, in fact, essential to her, without fearing judgment and criticism,” Willetts said in the Facebook post that was shared Tuesday evening.

“Within the compliances of established law, and in this reference, the people’s right to choose should be equally relevant and deemed essential to them, to visit a bar, a restaurant, a jazz club, comparatively.”

In an interview, Willetts said his Facebook post was meant as an opinion piece. He said he was surprised people took offense to his “women’s essential right to choose” analogy, saying he is merely championing the sacred right.

“It’s an essential right to choose,” he said. “Just like it’s the people’s essential right to choose to go to a jazz club.

“I don’t expect everyone to agree with it.”

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The post was deleted sometime Wednesday but Block Club captured screenshots while it was still active.

Pritzker has now ordered all restaurants and bars in the state to cease indoor service as coronavirus cases skyrocket across the city and state. The ban in Chicago is likely to last two to three weeks, the governor said, and will be overturned once Chicago’s coronavirus case count declines.

That would cause Le Piano to miss celebrating its second anniversary, as the Glenwood Avenue business does not have outdoor seating.

Willetts said it was unfair that restaurants are being punished but other businesses like retail continue without such restrictions. He said the governor should not get to declare what businesses are essential and coined the hashtag “people’s right to choose.”

“Art and music are essential to me,” he said. “What is essential to one may not be essential to another.”

The view from Le Piano during the day. Credit: Siobhan Neela-Stock / Block Club Chicago

Le Piano’s Facebook post drew strong condemnation from some Rogers Park neighbors before it was deleted.

Of the nearly 100 comments on the post as of Wednesday afternoon, virtually all of them were in opposition to Willetts’ plans to reopen. A number of commenters called out Willetts’ likening the situation to abortion access.

“Did you really just compare your right to make money with a woman’s autonomy over her own body?” one commenter wrote.

Le Piano was opened in November 2018 by Joe Quinlan and Willetts, who is a musician. The restaurant-bar contains a stage with a grand piano, and the bar attracts well known jazz musicians to play the venue.

Le Piano owners Chad Willetts and Joe Quinlan pose in the jazz bar. Credit: Siobhan Neela-Stock

In the early stages of the spring’s stay at home order, Le Piano was turned into a makeshift mask factory. Willetts used the restaurant’s unused deli paper to make disposable masks for Rogers Park grocery stores to hand out.

Le Piano reopened during the summer, but has now been forced to again shut its doors.

Willetts said he was in the process of booking Irish violinist Patricia Treacy — whom he dubbed “Joe Biden’s favorite” — when the new dining ban came down.

He said the people should be able to decide if they want to have dinner and see a show.

Le Piano Credit: Heather Miller

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