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Bar owners breathe sigh of relief

The news of extended hours and occupancy was a lifeline but still might not be enough.

Melani Hoffman inside The Green Lady tavern.
Melani Hoffman inside The Green Lady tavern.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

The news about the city easing capacity restrictions and extending hours for bars and restaurants was a ray of sunshine in an otherwise dark sky for many business owners.

“It’s a step in the right direction,” said Pete Douvalakis, owner of Pete’s Place — a tavern in Irving Park.

“Is it going to solve our problems? No. We’re way behind on bills, five months behind on rent, three months behind on insurance. So it’s day-by-day with us; the doors might close tomorrow,” he said.

The only reason he’s been able to make it this far during the pandemic is because he has a food license, which has kept people on barstools eating pizza and drinking beer.

His capacity will jump from 12 to 22 when the new rules kick in Thursday.

“The extended hours is the biggest thing because we make most of our money between 10 p.m. and 1 a.m.,” he said, echoing a common refrain among bar owners.

“We keep punching. We punch every day. We don’t give up,” he said.

For the last few months, bars without food licenses have only been allowed to serve customers in an open-air setting. On Thursday, customers will be allowed back inside.

And for Maria Jaimes, co-owner of the Whirlaway Lounge in Logan Square, which has no outdoor seating, it means she’ll be able to open her doors this week for the first time since March.

“This is very good news,” she said. “We own the building, that’s the only way we’ve been able to survive — we don’t have to pay rent. We’re fortunate.”

Celine Flynn, owner of Shinnick’s tavern in Bridgeport, learned of the news via text from her sister and replied, “Finally!”

Flynn has no food license and has only been able to serve customers at tables set up outside the bar, which has been in her family since 1938.

She hopes she can still capture some of the excitement of the White Sox making it to the playoffs, even though the ballpark will be empty.

“This should be an awesome summer for this neighborhood,” she lamented. “We’re less than a mile from the ballpark. People would normally park at the tavern and walk to the game,” said Flynn, who owns the building and is lucky to have two good tenants upstairs.

For Melani Hoffman, owner of The Green Lady tavern, the news meant survival.

“I would have to say if this wasn’t done, we wouldn’t make it. I don’t even know if we still will,” said Hoffman, who is not licensed to serve food.

She’s been able to open the bar’s windows and sit 13 people by the open air. On Thursday, she’ll be able to seat 25 people inside.

Hoffman, let out a “Yay!” when she saw the news on Twitter on Monday.

Open-air seating wasn’t going to help much in January and February, she said.

“We still have a long road I think, but everyone does,” she said.