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With no drinks to pour, bar owners and staff turn to the public for help during closure

As nightlife and hospitality workers grapple with an uncertain new reality amid the coronavirus shutdown, pleas for financial help have popped up all over the internet.

Bartender Ming Ling waits on customers at Sluggers, a family-owned sports bar and grill in the shadow of Wrigley Field, on March 15, 2020.
Bartender Ming Ling waits on customers at Sluggers, a family-owned sports bar and grill in the shadow of Wrigley Field, on March 15, 2020.
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It’s been two days since an elbow was bent in any bar in Illinois.

No boilermakers, gin and tonics or specialty cocktails.

As nightlife and hospitality workers grapple with an uncertain new reality — brought on by Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s decision to close bars in the state in until at least March 30 in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic — pleas for financial help have popped up all over the internet.

These campaigns, often dubbed “virtual tip jars,” aim to ease the burden on the thousands of people across the city and state who rely on the nightlife industry for their livelihood.

Four Entertainment Group owns and operates five bars in Lincoln Park, Bucktown, Logan Square and Wicker Park, employing upwards of 100 people. The company started a GoFundMe campaign for its employees three days ago, putting up $2,000 as an initial donation. In the two days since, another $8,000 has been raised.

David Halpern is a managing partner at Four Entertainment and oversees the company’s five bars in Chicago: Estelle’s, The Owl, Easy Bar, Remedy and aliveOne.

In recent days, Halpern said, he’s had a “humbling feeling of gratitude to all the people who are also going through financial challenges [but] still stepping up and still supporting our staff through our GoFundMe page.”

Halpern said he remains optimistic that “when the dust settles with this and we get our doors back open, everyone’s going to be reenergized.”

“There’s not a single person in my entire organization who is not looking at this as temporary and that we will get through this together.”

However, a “huge gray area” is hindering any long-term plans from being laid.

“Right now, we’re sitting on a two-week moratorium,” he said. “Deep down, we don’t feel like [on] March 31 we’re going to get back open. Yet at the same time, there hasn’t been any further communication that [bar closures will] be continued or lifted. But with all the news going on, it seems inevitable.”

Pritzker ordered bars to close by Monday night, two days after St. Patrick’s Day revelers flocked to River North and Wrigleyville for celebratory bar crawls, flouting the pleas of public health experts.

“The time for persuasion and public appeals is over,” Pritzker said earlier this week. “The time for action is here. This is not a joke. No one is immune to this, and you have an obligation to act in the best interests of all the people of this state.”

Illinois is already moving forward with initiatives designed to support families during the pandemic, including expanding unemployment insurance and demanding that utility companies cease service shut-offs and imposing late fees.

The Illinois Department of Employment Security received over 41,000 unemployment benefits claims March 16 and March 17, a representative said. Last year, the department received 4,445 claims on those two days.

Over the weekend, Pritzker requested a federal waiver to expand Medicaid coverage for affected families.

As of Tuesday, 160 people in Illinois had tested positive for COVID-19. The first death attributed to the virus — an Auburn Gresham woman — was recorded Monday.

In an effort to stanch the outbreak, schools in Illinois have been ordered closed, restaurants are only allowed to offer delivery or carryout, and the public at large has been urged to stay at home if possible.