CHICAGO (CBS) — Large crowds packed some neighborhood streets in Chicago on Saturday, as people got a taste of what eating outside in a pandemic looks like, and organizers got a view of what needs to improve.
Saturday was the first full day of an effort to close a stretch of Broadway in Lakeview for the city’s new Make Way for Dining program. More than 30 restaurants were allowed to expand their patio seating into the street.
Inevitably, with people anxious to get out and enjoy the warm weather, obeying the rules proved a challenge, and sometimes enforcing them was even harder.
The term eating out took on new meaning in Lakeview this weekend. A crowded street, tables on pavement; bringing life and profit back to struggling businesses.
“We haven’t had an empty table since we opened this morning, and it just offers a whole lot of hope,” said Martin Cournane, owner of Wilde Bar & Restaurant, one of 32 restaurants
Wilde bar and restaurant is one of more than 30 restaurants open for outdoor dining on the street on Broadway for at least the next two weekends.
It’s a new, seemingly welcomed way of dining in the age of COVID-19.
“As long as everyone is taking necessary precautions, like when you’re walking around wearing your mask, that sort of thing; I don’t feel exceptionally uncomfortable,” said diner Joshua Woods.
The Lakeview East Chamber of Commerce could barely hold on to its free face coverings. They’re a requirement if you’re not eating, along with keeping tables six feet apart.
But fewer tables means more waiting in groups. Organizers say there are specific tables for those who are waiting, and they get sanitized regularly.
“This is not the place to bring packaged goods, and sit down and have a party. I know everybody has been very anxious to get out, but this is not a festival. This is not a street festival. This is all about our restaurants and our dining,” said Maureen Martino, executive director of Lakeview East Chamber of Commerce.
Security guards reminded people of that through the day, but the later it got, the longer waits led to more trips to liquor stores.
Crowds of people with booze spilled into streets, next to signs banning public drinking.
“People have brown bags. They’ve been parking next to us with their dogs, and then also six packs,” one woman said
It comes with added pressure for taverns to keep an eye on alcohol, keeping it within their premises, while also watching customers.
“It’s hard when it’s an open air establishment like this, but we’re trying our best,” said Isreal Sanchez, owner of Cesar’s Killer Margaritas.
Restaurant owners hope the good outweighs the bad.
“I really hope that the mayor will consider broadening out the program to even more neighborhoods. If we could keep this going for weekends throughout the summer, it would be very helpful to us,”
The Lakeview East Chamber of Commerce said restaurants disobeying rules will be asked not to participate in the program.
The “Dine Out on Broadway” program continues on Sunday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
It will return next weekend, from 12 p.m. to 10 p.m. on June 19, and 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. on June 20 and 21.
The city plans similar outdoor dining programs in the Gold Coast, on Rush Street from Oak to Cedar; in Chatham, on 75th Street from Calumet to Indiana; in Little Italy, on Taylor Street from Loomis to Ashland; in Little Village, on 26th Street, from Central Park to Harding, and in the West Loop, on Randolph Street’s side service streets from just west of the Kennedy Expressway to Elizabeth.