Mayor vows to crack down on restaurants flouting health guidelines

“I don’t want to have to shut you down, but if you make me, I will,” Mayor Lori Lightfoot warned bars and restaurants that allow overcrowding. She and CPD Supt. David Brown also outlined crimefighting plans for the weekend.

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A customer entering Broken English Taco Pub in Old Town last week.

A customer entering Broken English Taco Pub in Old Town last week.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Mayor Lori Lightfoot threatened Thursday to shut down bars and restaurants that defy the city’s 50-person or 25% capacity limit — whichever is less — and warned, “If we shut you down, you’re not coming back any time soon.”  

Last weekend, Chicago bars and restaurants finally were allowed to reopen to indoor dining, but with strict limits on capacity and social distancing to fight the spread of the coronavirus.

Business Affairs and Consumer Protection Commissioner Rosa Escareno said then compliance would be policed by complaint only because she simply doesn’t have the staff to conduct random inspections. She urged Chicagoans who walk into crowded restaurants, bars and gyms to call 311.

But thenLightfoot started seeing “images of crowding and outright disregard for social distancing and face coverings” popping up on social media.

That’s when the mayor who shut down the lakefront because Chicagoans couldn’t be trusted to maintain social distance decided to make a similar threat to bars and restaurants fighting for survival after the stay-home shutdown.

She ordered Escareno to “ramp up” enforcement — by issuing fines as high as $10,000 and shutting down bars and restaurants that are the most “egregious” violators.

Lightfoot delivered the tough-love message Thursday during a conference call that included “several hundred” bar and restaurant owners. She told them the July Fourth holiday weekend was “make-or-break” for them. Abide by the rules or “suffer the consequences.”

After three months of stay-at-home sacrifice and mandatory shutdowns that bent the coronavirus curve, she won’t allow Chicago to suffer the same fate as other cities and states now “on fire” with new cases because they “threw the barn door open and let people have at it,” she said.

“Business owners, your fate is in your hands. I don’t want to have to shut you down. But if you make me, I will,” she said.

“We’re not playing with this. I’ve heard a lot of complaints: ‘Mayor, it’s so difficult. … All kinds of excuses. … We’re gonna be out and we’re gonna be active and we’re gonna be looking. ... And if you are shut down, you’re not coming back any time soon.”

Escareno said inspectors would be “out there in task force manner” with employees of the the police, fire and public health departments.

“The time for awareness and education is over and the time to be serious about keeping our city safe starts now.”

She advised businesses to “refuse entry” to anyone not wearing face masks or refusing to maintain social distance and follow capacity rules.

“I have seen standing room-only at rooftops and bars. … Patrons must be seated at all times. I have seen lines outdoors and congregating with no masks and no social distancing. … It is the responsibility of the business to address that. If you cannot manage your line, then go with reservations only. If you refuse to manage the line, then unfortunately, we’re gonna have to manage it for you,” she said.

“I have also seen cocktails sold for immediate consumption on the street. … And most alarming, I have seen a few cases with really packed bars as though we are not in a crisis. … Businesses must take the guidelines seriously. The health of our city the health of our economy truly depends on it.”

Illinois Restaurant Association President Sam Toia said the mayor’s warning is understandable, given backsliding in other states.

Toia said he’s concerned a few bad apples could cost him another shutdown, and pleaded with his members: “Please follow the guidelines, so we can stay safe and stay open.”

Police tactics and children shot

Talk of shutting down bars and restaurants dominated a news conference that was supposed to be about preventing a continuation of the recent outbreak of violence that is killing and maiming Chicago’s children.

On that front, there was nothing new beyond the earlier promise to sweep drug corners and flood the streets with violence interruptors and 1,200 police officers working days off.

“I want to stop and eliminate entirely the pipeline of our young men to the streets,”

Keeping Chicago safe is “not just the business of our police department. ... It’s on all of us,” Lightfoot said.

She urged those considering violence to “find your humanity” and think about the children, including a 20-month-old killed and a 3-year-old wounded, just in the last week.

“This cannot be who we are as a city,” mayor said.

CPD Supt. David Brown showed up in uniform for the first time, having completed the required state training and certification.

“How do you like it?” the retired Dallas police chief asked to nobody in particular. The superintendent said he plans to be “out every day, day-and-night” over the long holiday weekend “managing the city’s response.”

Lightfoot congratulated Brown on his “first public outing in uniform,” adding, “I know he’s proud” to wear it.

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