Chicago bars put on notice to avoid St. Patrick’s Day crowds

Liquor Control Commissioner Shannon Trotter has sent certified letters to thousands of liquor license holders reminding them to enforce capacity limits.

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People barhopping in the River North neighborhood on St. Patrick’s Day in March 2020.

The city has warned bars to enforce capacity limits and discourage lines outside on St. Patrick’s Day.

Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times file

Chicago’s liquor control commissioner has sent a certified letter to liquor license holders warning them about their responsibilities to prevent St. Patrick’s Day crowds from gathering and violating capacity restrictions and safety protocols.

Last year, the coronavirus pandemic forced Chicago to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day without downtown and South Side Irish parades that have been the colorful holiday’s most entrenched traditions along with dyeing the Chicago River green.

But that didn’t stop crowds from gathering shoulder to shoulder at Chicago bars and restaurants with lines of party-goers waiting outside.

This year, Liquor Control Commissioner Shannon Trotter is leaving nothing to chance even though both parades have again been canceled.

Her certified letter to thousands of liquor license holders, dated March 6, reminds them of their responsibility to enforce the indoor capacity limit of 50% or 50 people per room or floor, whichever is less.

Tables must be spaced 6 feet apart, with no more than six people at each table. Patrons must remain seated while eating and drinking. Masks must be worn, except while “actively eating or drinking.” And liquor licensees are urged to sell booze and beer in plastic cups, instead of cans and bottles.

“Dancing or other congregating is not allowed,” the letter states. “Use of a reservation system is strongly encouraged to avoid lines or congregation of people outside. … If you do have a line outside, your staff is responsible for ensuring that individuals in the line are maintaining proper social distancing and wearing a mask.”

Trotter said it is “imperative” that all establishments licensed to sell liquor provide “sufficient and knowledgeable staff and security” to ensure compliance with the city’s rigid regulations, including the legal drinking age.

Although it pains him to say it, as a proud Irishman, Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) has argued that canceling both parades was the only call to make.

There is simply no alternative to prevent “the type of activity that the parade inspires — not just the crowd watching the parade itself, but throughout the day,” Hopkins told the Chicago Sun-Times when the parades were canceled.

“Anyone could have potentially been forgiven for making the wrong decision on St. Patrick’s Day 2020. If you’re a government leader and you make the wrong decision now in 2021, it is unforgivable. There is no excuse. The science is clear. St. Patrick’s Day should be canceled.”

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