A weekend warehouse party that advertised itself as dragging on until 4 a.m. — without masks or social distancing — was shut down as part of a City Hall crackdown on large public and private gatherings that officials feared could turn into super-spreader events.
Business Affairs and Consumer Protection Commissioner Rosa Escareno, concerned about what she called “go-rogue” large parties, formed a task force “with the goal of shutting them down before they begin.” The task force includes three other city departments — CPD, CFD and the Department of Buildings.
During the first weekend of operations, 23 investigations were conducted. That resulted in five cease-and-desist orders for illegal public places of amusement and three immediate closures.
The most egregious target was a party at 4106 W. Chicago Ave., touted on EventBrite as starting at 10 p.m. and lasting until 4 a.m. with $20 tickets sold at the door.
That set off alarm bells, since no place is supposed to be open after midnight, Escareno said.
Inside, city officials found people without masks, oblivious to maintaining social distance at what Escareno called an “unlicensed establishment” that was providing liquor with no liquor license.
Citations were issued to the venue operator for “different violations to the liquor license code as well as the COVID. … The good thing about that is that we caught it early. We shut it down very early. But if you go on EventBrite right now, that location is continuing to advertise,” Escareno said Monday during a conference call with City Hall reporters.
“We are extremely concerned about these illegal parties that are potentially causing some of the increase in the cases. … We are concerned about increasing numbers that will likely have an impact on our entire city.”
The venue operator, identified by the city as Clark Golembo, could not be reached for comment.
Escareno said most restaurants and bars holding private events are “doing a great job” of adhering to the 25 percent of capacity or 50-person maximum — whichever is less.
“We have found actually great compliance, unlike the unlicensed, kind of go-rogue parties that we are looking into, which are the ones that are becoming problematic and are the ones that we are definitely focusing on. It’s what we actually need to stop and we need your help,” she said, promising to pinpoint illegal parties through social media postings and 911 calls.
Last week, the Lightfoot administration threw a life raft to bars forced to close to indoor service to prevent a continued surge in cases among young people.
Businesses that serve alcohol without a retail food license were allowed to temporarily operate on their front sidewalk, but only if they: identify a “partner food establishment” to ensure customers can order food to eat at the bar; maintain at least 6 feet for pedestrians; and surround their seating area with a barrier.
The temporary permit has already given “over 250 bars and restaurants the ability to operate outside quickly and safely,” Escareno said.
“When the bars were asked to close as part of the rollback a couple of weeks ago, it was important for us to allow them to expand. But there was concern about having people just drinking outside. So we felt that it’s a nice pairing to continue to make it about expanded food and expanded dining,” the commissioner said.
“They have to submit a food partner. ... It could be the restaurant down the street that can actually deliver. ... They could [also] have a licensed food caterer at their location. For us, that’s extremely important. … Two businesses coming together at an unprecedented time.”
Escareno advised business owners to put up signs and call 911 to report patrons who “become belligerent” and refuse to wear face masks and maintain social distance.
“They need to establish strong protocols. Bottom line. And they should refuse service if individuals are not adhering to the guidelines,” she said.
“If we step in and we identify people with no face masks, then the business is the one that’s going to be cited. To avoid that, they need to strengthen their policies and protocols.”