But unlike other bars which eventually reopened and addressed fans on social media, Best Intentions has remained dark for a year, leaving residents wondering if the bar was headed toward permanent closure.
Despite the “deep sleep,” the bar at 3281 W. Armitage Ave. is not closed for good, co-owner Chris Marty said this week. Marty, who owns the bar with his brother, Calvin, said they have every intention of reopening once they’ve deemed it safe. But they haven’t reached that point yet.
Over the last several months, they’ve taken on thousands of dollars in debt to keep the bar closed, which they believe is the right thing to do given that bars and restaurants have been proven to fuel outbreaks.
“We’re waiting for epidemiologists to say, ‘We’re in the clear, we rounded the corner.’ That’s where we’re at,” Marty said.
Best Intentions, which opened in 2015, has become a local favorite for its kitschy decor and unpretentious menu. In a review, the Tribune described it as “The dive bar all other dives try to be.”
Last March, the owners were forced to shut down as the pandemic took hold, implementing what they jokingly referred to as “deep sleep protocol.” Right away, they got to work donating perishables and slashing expenses to the “smallest possible number,” Marty said.
“We told our investors we were planning for a year. That was our worst-case scenario was a calendar year,” Marty said. “We were close. Apparently it’s going to be a little longer.”
Even when the state lifted restrictions, Marty said they never considered reopening at limited capacity, worried they’d be putting their employees and customers at risk with the pandemic still raging. They watched from the sidelines as other bars and restaurants starting selling to-go beer, bottled cocktails and other merchandise to stay afloat.
“We sell $5 cheeseburgers, we sell $3 Coors Banquet … for us to [reopen], now our cheeseburgers gotta be $20 instead of $5 and our $9 Old Fashioned has to be $20 and you have to pour it out of the bottle? You’re missing the best part of Best Intentions, and for us … that was not a sustainable concept.”
Rather than bottling to-go cocktails, they poured all of their energy into applying for small business loans, Marty said. They’ve received more than $150,000 in loans to date, which has allowed them to keep paying rent and other bare-bone expenses without pivoting to carryout, he said.
“We just applied for everything we could ever apply for, we did it as fast as we could. If it opened at 8 a.m., we did it at 8 a.m.,” he said.
“Calvin and I made the decision that we would go bankrupt before we would put anyone at risk — our staff but also the community at large. Knowing that bars and restaurants are one of the No. 1 spreaders of an airborne virus, it wasn’t hard for us to make a decision to say we’re not going to make this thing worse.”
In spite of this, Marty said they don’t begrudge other restaurant and bar owners for reopening or for pivoting to carryout. He said everyone in the industry is up against the same set of challenges and they were “lucky” to secure loans to carry them through.
“If we wouldn’t have gotten any debt to carry this belief, I can’t swear to you that we would’ve decided to go bankrupt,” he said.
What restaurant and bar owners have needed for a long time, he said, is financial support to stay closed so they aren’t put in the difficult position of having to choose between their business and the health of their employees and customers. President Joe Biden recently signed the American Rescue bill, which includes $28.6 billion in restaurant and bar relief.
Now, with the city’s positivity rate at an all-time low and vaccinations ramping up, officials have relaxed restrictions and bars are allowed to operate at 50 percent capacity. But Best Intentions will remain closed until the owners are ready to have patrons inside again. Marty said they’re waiting on epidemiologists, not elected officials, to give them the green-light.
“A lot of the country is acting like we crossed the finish line, and we haven’t crossed the finish line,” he said.
In the meantime, neighbors can support the bar by wearing masks, practicing social distancing and not attending big parties, he said.
“We need a safe society, we need a safe world to open in,” he said. “It’s very cheesy, but everyone’s personal actions, everyone’s decisions they make, that’s what gets us there.”
Still, Marty said he’s “guardedly optimistic” the restaurant and bar restaurant industry will go back to some semblance of normalcy this year and Best Intentions will be around to experience it.
“We’re going to be OK. We’re going to make it,” he said. “Our plan has worked up to this point. We’re not currently in danger [of closing permanently].”
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