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Wicker Park, Bucktown, West Town

With No Staff To Check Vax Cards And City Stalling Winter Patio Approval, West Town Pub Closes For The Month

The Irish Nobleman Pub will reopen in February, when owners hope they can hire someone to check vaccination cards at the door.

Decorations outside the Irish Nobleman Pub in West Town for its Halfway To St. Patrick's Day Celebration
Quinn Myers/Block Club Chicago
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WEST TOWN — The Irish Nobleman Pub in West Town is temporarily closing through January, after owners say they did not have enough time to adapt to new rules mandating customers be vaccinated against COVID-19.

Proof of COVID-19 vaccination is now required for patrons entering bars, restaurants, gyms and certain other indoor businesses in Chicago. Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced the policy on Dec. 21 and it went into effect Monday, but owners of the neighborhood pub, 1367 W. Erie St., say that wasn’t enough time to prepare. Cook County has since implemented the requirement, as well.

“A few days is not enough time to adequately come up with a financial nor logistically sound solution for many small restaurants to implement this new Chicago and Cook County mandate,” bar owners wrote last week in a post on the business’s website.

Irish Nobleman owner Declan Morgan said after the city’s announcement, he tried to hire a doorman to check vaccine cards at the bar, first at $15 an hour, then at $20 — but didn’t get “a single response.”

Morgan said he and his staff have concerns over enforcing the vaccine mandate themselves, after some customers violently responded to employees asking them to wear a mask inside the bar.

“We’ve had a customer spit in a server’s face, we had fights breakout where we were assaulted,” he said. “Now to ask people ‘hey, let me check your vaccination card,’ I just didn’t feel safe enough.”

Morgan said the bar will likely reopen Feb. 1, and will check vaccination cards upon entry then.

There have been mixed reactions to the requirement, similar to measures in New York City and Los Angeles. Some have questioned why it didn’t start sooner, particularly as cases were increasing because of the Delta variant through the fall. But some restaurant owners urged City Hall to push back the deadline, saying the requirement burdens a struggling industry that cannot afford more expenses without added support from the government.

Like Irish Nobleman, the owners of Tacotlán in Hermosa also cannot shoulder the extra bandwidth to check vaccination cards. They have decided to shift to carryout only for the time being.

Credit: Quinn Myers/Block Club Chicago
Irish Nobleman co-owner Declan Morgan outside his bar in West Town on Sept. 16, 2021

The vaccination card requirement isn’t the only strain for Irish Nobleman, Morgan said. Like many bars and restaurants across Chicago, the Irish Nobleman greatly expanded its outdoor dining capacity in 2020, receiving permission from the city to seat people outdoors last winter.

But Morgan said the bar’s outdoor dining permit expired in October, and the city was not responsive to requests to extend it through the winter months into 2022.

“We spent nearly $50,000 expanding the patio, and the heaters and electric, the tents and walls,” Morgan said. “We asked the city, ‘can we continue the expanded patio for November, December, January?’ they wouldn’t even respond to us,” he said.

A spokesperson for the city’s Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection, which issues sidewalk cafe licenses for bars and restaurants, did not return a request for comment.

Morgan said he’s continuing to pay staff and other operating expenses through January, which is typically one of the bar’s slowest months.

“We’re going to feel it. The Direct TV bill is still coming in, the gas and electric and all the bills, we’re paying out of pocket for everything,” he said. “Right across the board with this pandemic, everything has increased in price from the meat going up over 200 percent to plastic cups and dish ware … just everything’s gotten more expensive to operate.”

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