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Chicago restaurant and bar owners rejoice in anticipation of end to capacity limits

The industry has been under capacity and social distancing restrictions since March 2020. They go away Friday.

A glass of wine at City Winery Chicago.
Capacity limits and social distancing rules for restaurants and bars are expected to lifted Friday.
Sun-Times file

Noise. Trays full of drinks skillfully navigating crowded rooms. Live music.

Bar and restaurant owners took a few minutes Thursday to express their joy that the sounds and sights they took for granted prior to the coronavirus pandemic will be returning, beginning Friday, as the state lifts social distancing and capacity mandates.

“It’s extremely exciting,” said Jodi Agee, owner of the Jefferson Tap in the West Loop. “I’m actually near tears. It was really hard for everybody. ... We’re at the end of the tunnel, the light is here.”

Len DeFranco, owner of Hawkeye’s Bar & Grill in Little Italy, was eager to once again host diners who could sit down and relax without fear.

“More customers will realize that restaurants are safe ... and that there is not a germ lurking behind every glass and dinner plate to attack them. So, for those reasons I’m grateful and very thankful,” he said.

The comments came during a virtual news conference by the Chicago Restaurants Coalition to celebrate the reopening.

“We’re excited, the energy is great in this city, the weather is awesome and we’re just happy to welcome everyone back into the restaurant at 100%” said Kim DiPofi, whose family owns Pompei Restaurant in Little Italy.

Laura Fashoda, general manager of City Winery in the West Loop, said her employees were over the moon to welcome back guests to dine and listen to live music and more at its West Loop venue.

“We are ramping up our efforts to get that room full of people, live music, wine tastings, wine tours, weddings,” she said. “We have brides on a weekly basis that are calling and just ecstatic and thrilled that they have waited so long for this special moment and now they can celebrate it at City Winery,” she said.

Friday marks the first time since March of last year that bars and restaurants won’t be under social distancing and capacity rules.

“This has been a long road,” said Roger Romanelli, the coalition’s coordinator.

Sam Toia, head of the Illinois Restaurant Association, also took a minute to reflect on the long-anticipated day.

“Friday represents a giant, positive step for Chicago. June 11, 2021, will come to represent a milestone breakthrough of this crisis — and the day our industry began to rebuild,” he said in an email.