By Tara Molina

CHICAGO (CBS) — Fighting for more hours, bars and restaurants still have to close at midnight with last call for drinks at 11 p.m. Those restricted hours are particularly difficult for late night spots with special hour licenses. Many have had to totally change their business models on top of fighting to stay in business.

Bijan’s Bistro in River North has been a late night spot for 30 years, open 23 hours a day, 365 days a year. That is what they were known for, so when they were no longer allowed to serve, per their late hour license, everything had to change.

Manager Arthur Gerhardt said Bijan’s Bistro’s late hour liquor license here was put to good use every night of the week for years.
“Micheal Jordan and a couple Bulls players would be hanging out in here on a Friday night or Saturday night,” he said. “People used to come here and hang out with them until 4 in the morning.”
And while Chicago’s entire restaurant industry has been forced to roll with the punches, the rule changes, and the closures, Gerhardt said because of the restricted hours they had to come up with a whole new business model, too.
“The locals, they know us as a late night place,” he said. “Eleven to 4 is when we generated 80% of our revenue.”

Illinois Restaurant Association President and CEO Sam Toia said Bijan’s Bistro is not alone:

The pandemic has been catastrophic for restaurants and bars citywide, requiring most operators to pivot in new ways in pursuit of revenue generation. The IRA continues to advocate for both regulatory and financial relief at the local, state and federal levels as the industry faces a long journey to full recovery.

That’s why they are asking the city for extended hours — keep capacity limited, keep safety measures in place, but keep serving food and drink past the city’s current cut offs.
CBS 2 found Bijan’s is one of only 138 businesses with late hour licenses spread throughout the city. Some of them  have gone out of business in the past year. A spokesperson for the city’s Office of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection said licenses like these have been extended in the pandemic, with no license renewal fees due until mid-July:
City of Chicago business licenses have been extended due to the pandemic. That means that all licenses that would have expired or will expire between March 15, 2020 and June 15, 2021 will be considered active until July 15, 2021. That means that no establishment would have had to renew their license or pay a license fee during the pandemic.“
But this manager says they are going to need more than that. They want later hours — and soon.
“You give us 1 o’clock? We will be able to survive a lot longer than being able to stay open until 11,” he said.
A spokesperson for the mayor’s office said they want to continue to ease regulations for businesses like this one moving forward, but there is no timeline on that right now. They released the following statement:
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the City has prioritized safety and worked closely with Chicago’s business community to ensure safe and responsible operations. We know that COVID-related regulations have had a serious impact on businesses, which is why we have directed more financial relief to businesses than any other municipality in the country including grants specifically for the hospitality industry. Restricted operating hours have been used throughout the world as an effective tool to mitigate the spread of the COVID-19 crisis, but we are evaluating our regulations regularly and hope to continue easing regulations carefully and cautiously as the COVID outlook improves.
Find the latest rules on business reopening in the city here.

Tara Molina