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Sip your green beer — but no dancing or ‘other congregating!’ Bars prep for scaled-down St. Patrick’s Day

City liquor license holders have been reminded to enforce coronavirus guidelines for St. Paddy’s on Wednesday, including limiting the capacity to the lesser of 50% or 50 people per room. “Everybody’s pretty familiar with the rules by now,” said hospitality industry rep Pat Doerr.

A guard stands outside Miki’s Park in River North on Saturday. Bars will again be operating at 50% capacity on St. Patrick’s Day.
A guard stands outside Miki’s Park in River North on Saturday. Bars will again be operating at 50% capacity on St. Patrick’s Day.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times file

City officials pulled a fast one last weekend, dyeing the Chicago River green after days of denying the St. Patrick’s Day tradition would take place with COVID-19 still lurking.

But for revelers hoping the city flip-flops again and loosens restrictions at bars on the actual day of the normally green beer- and whiskey-soaked holiday — they’ll have no such luck.

City liquor license holders have been reminded to enforce coronavirus guidelines for St. Paddy’s on Wednesday, including limiting the capacity to the lesser of 50% or 50 people per room.

The vast majority of establishments toed the line on the Saturday before the holiday proper, which, in non-COVID times, serves as the main bar-hopping jubilee in tandem with the downtown and South Side Irish parades that were called off this year. Chicago’s Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection reported a “very high level” of compliance, citing just one River North bar for operating over capacity.

St. Patrick’s Day revelers eat at RPM Seafood beside a green Chicago River on Saturday.
St. Patrick’s Day revelers eat at RPM Seafood beside a green Chicago River on Saturday.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

With the actual holiday falling in the middle of the work week — not to mention Chicago’s latest cold snap — Pat Doerr, managing director of the Hospitality Business Association of Chicago, said he expects the potential for overcrowding to be even less of an issue.

“Everybody’s pretty familiar with the rules by now,” Doerr said. “Our bars did a great job Saturday when the weather was glorious, and I’m pretty confident they’ll do an even better job with less beautiful weather.

Adriana Arizola, dressed for St. Patrick’s Day, takes a picture in River North, Saturday afternoon.
Adriana Arizola, dressed for St. Patrick’s Day, takes a picture in River North, Saturday afternoon.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times file

“Chicago likes a good St. Patrick’s Day, but it’s never observed on the day of quite like on that first Saturday before it,” he said. “The parades and river-dyeing are in our DNA at this point.”

Besides the capacity limits, city regulations require tables to be spaced 6 feet apart, with no more than six people per table. Masks are required unless customers are “actively eating or drinking,” and they must be seated.

Dancing and “other congregating” is prohibited, and city officials have urged businesses to take reservations to avoid lines like those that dotted city streets on the holiday last year, days before Gov. J.B. Pritzker ordered a full shutdown of indoor service with COVID-19 cases skyrocketing.

People line up outside a River North Bar in March 2020, before the COVID-19 shutdown.
People line up outside a River North Bar in March 2020, before the COVID-19 shutdown.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

“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,” city Liquor Control Commissioner Shannon Trotter warned in a letter to establishments earlier this month.

Bar and restaurant owners in Illinois haven’t had anything to celebrate over the past year, after two crippling indoor shutdowns sank hundreds of businesses and left thousands of hospitality workers jobless.

And Chicago operators are still stuck a step behind their competitors in the suburbs and beyond, which under state guidelines are allowed to operate at 50% capacity — without the city edict limiting rooms to 50 people.

“At least put us on a competitive level with the rest of the state,” Doerr said. “With 200,000 people out of work, it would get at least some people back on the job.”