The city of Chicago has warned bar owners to act responsibly as St. Patrick’s Day approaches and promised fines and shutdowns if COVID-19 safety rules are ignored. The weekend before the holiday, this weekend, is going to be a challenge. The city is doing its part to downplay the celebrations by canceling parades and the usual green death of the Chicago River.
While St. Patrick’s Day is a holiday famous for its gimmicks, the pandemic has inundated the celebrations with a shadow of seriousness. Chicago’s large Irish-American population usually welcomes the holiday. Now the bar owners are trying to create a fun environment while reminding the exuberant night owls to adhere to COVID safety protocols.
Bars could be fined up to $ 10,500 and shut down for COVID-19 violations after two quotes. The city is also cracking down on pub crawls. Some promoters Canceled events. On Thursday morning, Chicago Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady a memorable quote to help build customer awareness:
„Green beer doesn’t protect you from COVID, does it?” She said. „There’s nothing else on St. Patrick’s Day, which means you should forego the things you would normally take from a COVID precaution.”
According to a rep for Big Onion Hospitality, a group that runs Fat Pour T Works and more, customers shouldn’t expect the all-you-can-drink parties that have been happening in the past few years. Instead, Big Onion’s bars sell table packs for four or six that include a bucket of hard seltzer, a bucket of Miller Lite, a bottle of champagne, and a selection of petizers. Customers need to stay at their own tables, and staff have rearranged the space to prevent mixing.
The operators hope that these precautionary measures will reduce over-consumption to a minimum. They believe that restrictions coupled with fewer customers will likely make it harder for troublemakers to get away with inappropriate behavior.
Billy Lawless, who came to Chicago from Ireland in 1998, had to make adjustments to his bars that year. For Lawless, St. Patrick’s is a great day to see old customers at Gage, an Irish bar and restaurant that usually get crowded during the holidays across from Millennium Park.
„Unfortunately there is no live music this year,” says Lawless. „I don’t think bagpipers blowing air all over the bar are the healthiest thing from COVID.”
For operators like Lawless and Big Onion, last year’s St. Patrick’s Day celebrations spelled the outbreak of the pandemic that would turn lives and livelihoods upside down. Despite the event’s cancellations last year, photos of overcrowded party buses and long lines of carefree drinkers outside bars were spread on social media, infuriating Governor JB Pritzker.
According to longtime manager Julia Velazquez, the O’Shaughnessy public house in Ravenswood is one of those trying to balance security with the need for revenue. The bar is usually so busy on St. Patrick’s Day that the servers have difficulty navigating the room. This year, employees are mainly focusing on four take-away vacation packages with traditional goodies such as corned beef with cabbage and pastry pate, as well as Guinness nitro cans and branded glasses.
The bar has space for 50 customers in the front room and another 44 in the back. Reservations are possible for groups of six – the maximum number of officials allow – but Velazquez says some customers feel the rules don’t apply to them. One group recently wanted to reserve a table for 10 and said the potential guests are all vaccinated and can do whatever they want.
„I said, ‘Good for you, but I’m not vaccinated and my staff are not vaccinated’ … It’s not safe and I don’t want to put anyone at risk,” she says. „We need money, everyone needs money, but safety comes first.”
Other companies in Chicago are also trying to operate at home. Ravenswoods Koval Distillery offers one virtual cocktail class Here students learn to make Irish coffee, beer cocktails and a „happy green drink”. The Celtic knot in the suburb of Evanston is also Opt for special kits and packages, with outdoor seating if weather permits.
Lawless venues, including the Dawson in River West, offer packages on the go, but the focus is on on-site service. Holidays like St. Patrick’s can help bars financially, and he says his bar is ready to address the public health threat and make sure customers wear masks and tables are properly spaced. The Gage also serves special dishes like „Not Your Grandma’s Colcannon” with whiskey braised pork, truffle potatoes and cabbage.
„We have to live life and enjoy life,” Lawless says. „Our life is today.”
Brendan McKinney, owner of 21 year old Irish pub chef O’Neill’s, doesn’t have to worry about noisy night owls as he has over two decades of experience creating a fun and relaxing St. Patrick’s Day environment. This is the opposite of crowded scenes in neighborhoods like Old Town, the North River, and near Rush and Division. Long lines flock to the sidewalks and bouncers have to deal with drunken crowds. The city of Chicago doesn’t want parties to gather on sidewalks waiting to enter this year.
„It’s a Herculean task to make sure everyone has a good and safe time,” says McKinney. „Every year we improve it.”
McKinney and Chief O’Neill don’t want an unruly atmosphere in Avondale. The bar is family friendly under the tent. You don’t need a porter. The large outdoor area of the pub offers space for a total of 300 people with tables under an open tent. He has also organized a number of socially distant performances, including musicians and Irish dancers. Servers take orders from customers to keep them seated and get employees back to work.
Chief O’Neill is closed when Pritzker closed indoor dining on St. Patrick’s Day 2020 and reopened in June, then closed again when the ban returned in October. He estimates the number of bars has decreased by 70 percent – a pattern that began after last year’s vacation.
“They have a thriving business and a truck full of beer for [the holiday] – then boom, lights off, ”he says. “A thousand pounds of corned beef are ready, a cooler full of groceries and nowhere to put. This is how this symphony began. „