Chicago restaurants and music venues voluntarily close as another wave of COVID-19 hits the city

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CHICAGO — Some Chicago businesses are closing their doors again — this time voluntarily — as COVID-19 cases surge.

Several bars, restaurants and music venues announced temporary closures over the weekend after staff members tested positive for the virus or were exposed to someone who did. Among them: Rose Mary, Elske, Giant, Sepia, Lardon, Old Irving Brewing, Paulee Gee’s Logan Square, Parson’s West Town and Lula Cafe.

While some will close for a few days while staff members are tested, others, like The Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western Ave., have chosen to extend a scheduled holiday closure.

Bruce Finkelman, whose hotel group 16″ On Center owns the empty bottle, confirmed that the venue will be closed until December 30.

“We have reviewed our schedule and we have been able to extend [Empty Bottle’s] holiday closure for a few more days to be safe and healthy,” Finkelman said. “Our first goal is to look after the health and well-being of not only our staff, but also our friends and customers, and that seemed logical.”

Other venues at 16″ On Center, including Thalia Hall in Pilsen, will remain open for the time being, Finkelman said.

Theater productions and professional sports leagues like the NHL are also taking a break as cases rise.

The city and the rest of the state have battled rising COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths for weeks, fueled by the Delta variant. Now the Omicron variant – thought to be more contagious – has been found in the city and suburbs, and it makes up the bulk of new cases.

Chicago had 8,486 confirmed cases between Friday and Monday, bringing the city to 373,011 confirmed cases. An average of 1,776 confirmed cases are being reported per day, up 79% from the previous week. The city’s positivity rate is 7.3%, down from 4.1% a week ago.

Hospitalizations and deaths are also rising, with Chicago now seeing an average of 10 residents die per day from COVID-19.

Credit: Jake Wittich/Block Club Chicago
More and more places require proof of vaccination to participate in shows.

The new wave is adding pressure to an industry that has struggled during the pandemic. When businesses reopened, many restaurants and venues demanded masks and proof of vaccinations or negative tests, even without a citywide warrant.

Now Mayor Lori Lightfoot and other officials are expected to require similar measures in all businesses where customers are indoors.

RELATED: ‘Traumatized and exhausted’ bar and restaurant owners impose vaccine requirements and mask mandates as Delta variant hits town

On Sunday, the owners of Berlin Nightclub at Lakeview, 954 W. Belmont Ave., announced they would be taking a temporary hiatus “due to rising cases in Chicago” and reopening Dec. 26.

“We thank you for the protective measures you are taking by getting vaccinated and boosted, getting tested, wearing a mask and staying home if you feel sick,” the club said in a statement on the social networks. “Let’s bring live entertainment to life!” Please have a safe and healthy vacation, and we will see you again soon.”

Robert Gomez, who owns Beat Kitchen in Lakeview and Subterranean in Wicker Park, said he has no plans to close his venues yet, but in some ways it’s “already happening organically”.

“We had a cancellation on Sunday. Groups test positive for COVID and are forced to cancel, which would be our policy anyway,” Gomez said. “I think [closing] is easier to do right now for some because the holidays actually fall on the weekend, and if you don’t have much to do during the week, why not close until New Years? But we’re not taking an official position, we’ll just take it day by day. »

Gomez said his sites and many others in Chicago have required proof of vaccination to enter for months, which he says has been mostly welcomed by customers.

“We had a head start on this, we knew we would be the first to be shut down again unless we took action ourselves. We have already mandated that,” Gomez said.

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
A sign demanding masks at a bar in Lincoln Square.

At Logan Square, Lula Cafe, 2537 N. Kedzie Blvd., closed Friday after a staff member tested positive for COVID-19. Owner Jason Hammel said the restaurant had already planned a holiday break, but extended it due to the positive case.

“I’ll be honest: the staff are devastated and frustrated, scared and rightly so. And I am very concerned for everyone’s well-being, ”he said. “It wouldn’t be good anytime, but again, especially over the holidays, it’s obviously a really tough time. People travel and visit family or choose not to. It was a very difficult few days.

Hammel said Lula plans to reopen on December 27, but that could change depending on virus cases. He said if the restaurant were to switch to a take-out model, he would. Lula already requires customers to show proof of vaccination for dinner.

RELATED: No Shot, No Show: List of Chicago music venues in need of vaccines grows as industry tries to stay afloat amid delta surge

“Certainly in this climate, a decision that is made for next week is just a pending decision. We will prioritize the safety and health of our community and see what happens after that” , did he declare.

In the wake of the latest COVID-19 surge, Hammel said he would like to see public officials make free COVID-19 testing more available and possibly restore financial relief options for restaurant workers if shutdowns continue. extend.

The “community is going to have to stick together and help each other in different ways, much like we did earlier,” Hammel said. “Our restaurant workers are in danger. And I hope we can find ways to provide for them collectively.

Credit: Quinn Myers/Block Club Chicago
Five Star Bar at 1424 W. Chicago Ave. in West Town

West Town’s Five Star Bar, 1424 W. Chicago Ave., closed Saturday after an employee learned he had been in close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19. Bar owners said the business immediately shut down to test employees who may have been exposed.

Asad Yousof, one of the owners of Five Star, hopes to reopen later this week, depending on staff members’ test results. Going forward, Five Star will check customers’ vaccination cards at the entrance and provide free PCR tests to staff, Yousof said.

The closure comes a month after Five Star reopened under new ownership after an extended hiatus.

Yousof said that made the financial impact of the shutdown difficult to gauge, but he is not concerned about the bottom line at this time.

“We are a new opening, so we are looking at the numbers like a new restaurant opening during a pandemic. For the moment, it is nothing concrete; we haven’t even started our delivery services and opened our hours fully because we had a lot of holidays before December,” he said. “Our main concern is everyone’s health and safety.”

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