In the wake of Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s ban last week on indoor dining and drinking at bars and restaurants in suburban Cook County as COVID-19 cases surged, the owners of some local establishments have decided – some openly – to defy the order.
At least three restaurants/bars in North Riverside and three establishments in Brookfield welcomed customers to partake indoors, prompting village officials to either call or send police officers to remind them of the governor’s order.
But local leaders also say they are essentially powerless to stop scofflaws from defying the governor’s ban.
“The governor has issued the order, but we don’t believe we have the legal authority to enforce it,” said Brookfield Village President Kit Ketchmark.
The governor has made it clear, said Ketchmark, that the burden for enforcement will fall on local authorities, and the Illinois Liquor Control Commission has issued guidance on how local municipalities can enforce the ban on indoor dining by temporarily suspending liquor licenses.
But local leaders are loathe to take such drastic measures, saying that pulling a liquor license involves a formal process. Privately, municipal risk management providers are telling local officials that pursuing criminal complaints against scofflaws or threatening to suspend liquor licenses could leave municipalities open to costly lawsuits.
Ketchmark said local mayors have met via conference call in recent days and generally agree that the governor’s order “doesn’t make sense” and have asked the governor for data supporting his claim that bars and restaurants are a significant source of novel coronavirus transmission.
“It’s hard to believe this is what’s causing [COVID-19 cases] to go up so much, said Ketchmark, who added that studies have shown that cases are often transmitted through families attending large private gatherings.
Some local bar and restaurant owners feel the same way. On the evening of Oct. 29, a day after the governor’s ban went into effect, Bernadette Ryan, the owner of Ryan Public House on Ogden Avenue in Brookfield, announced on social media that she was defying the ban.
“We will continue to follow all of the health and safety guidelines put into place in June,” Ryan said in her Facebook update. “Ryan’s has always prided itself on cleanliness and hygiene and strives to keep our pub as clean and safe an environment for all.”
Ryan added that the pub’s outdoor tent would be equipped with heaters for those still uncomfortable with being inside and they would continue to take orders for takeout and curbside pickup.
“We have staff who have children, who have healthcare to pay into and who have mortgages and they will not survive on carryout orders alone,” Ryan wrote. “Therefore, our decision to stay open in a responsible and safe manner came with a lot of thoughtful considerations.”
After receiving a complaint at about 9 p.m. on Oct. 29, a Brookfield police officer was dispatched to Ryan’s. According to the report filed by the responding officer, he talked to Ryan outside of the pub and provided her with the state’s COVID-19 mitigation information form.
Ryan’s was open for indoor service the following morning, as planned. Attempts to reach Ryan by phone and email were not successful.
After initially honoring the ban, the management at Sebastian’s Ale and Whiskey House in downtown Brookfield announced on Facebook on Oct. 30 that they were reopening the doors for indoor dining.
“We are at a very small fraction of the revenue than normal,” the post stated. “We can’t even make enough to pay our employees that are working. We thought we would be able to get through without opening the inside and keeping everyone employed. That is not an option anymore.”
On Nov. 1, Sebastian’s announced it had also set up an impromptu food pantry to benefit “all our industry friends or anyone effected by the indoor dining closures.”
“If you need food for you or your kids, we are here for you, no questions asked,” the establishment announced. “We will have a little pantry set up also. It’s not much but please don’t have anyone go to sleep hungry. …
“We are all in this together and we will all get through this. Just call and we will have it ready for you.”
Brookfield police did not receive any complaints about the bar/restaurant being open and did not visit there over the weekend.
Officers did notify the staff of Phil’s Sports Bar and Grill, also in downtown Brookfield, of the governor’s ban after getting called there on Nov. 1 at about 8:25 p.m. to respond to a report of a fight among six or seven people.
Several of those involved had left the bar by the time police arrived. Officers noted in their report that between 10 and 25 people were inside the bar at the time.
North Riverside officials, meanwhile, received complaints about three different establishments opening their doors to indoor dining and drinking on Oct. 28.
After phone calls to the owners and managers of those places that day, Mother’s Day Restaurant and Tipster’s Village Pub, both on Cermak Road, stopped serving indoors and switched to a takeout/delivery model.
Indoor service wasn’t halted at Yia Yia’s Pancake House on Harlem Avenue until Oct. 29 after two police officers visited and advised the manager that the restaurant was in violation of the governor’s order.
Police said they did not order the establishment closed or issue any citations but rather asked the manager to comply with the governor’s order.
“It’s very frustrating,” said Steve Kallas, manager of Yia Yia’s. “I don’t know how long we’ll be closed down this time, but we haven’t recovered from the first shutdown.
Kallas said of the restaurant’s 40 employees only a handful were working Oct. 30, filling takeout orders.
“We were going to stay open because our people needed to put food on the table,” said Kallas. “If they keep us closed down like [the first shutdown], I don’t think we can recover.”
Kevin Geiger, the manager at Tipster’s Village Pub, said on Thursday afternoon that the management there had yet to decide on whether to remain open for only takeout/curbside/delivery service or resume defying the governor’s ban.
“Right now we’re in between decisions on what we’re going to do,” Geiger said. “People got to work. We all got bills to pay.”
Geiger, like others, questioned how a heated and essentially enclosed tent outside of the establishment was any different than eating inside. He also marveled that customers were still allowed to go inside the bar to play video gambling machines.
Before getting a call from the village on the afternoon of Oct. 28, Peter Paleothodoros, the owner of Mother’s Day Restaurant, said business was brisk.
“It was a gut punch,” Paleothodoros said of the governor’s indoor dining ban. “We were just about starting to get on our feet and now we take 10 steps back. You try to find the silver lining and there is none.”
Paleothodoros said that due to Mother’s Day’s Cermak Road location, they never contemplated setting up a tent for outdoor dining, and for now the restaurant is filling carryout orders.
Ketchmark said that while he believes the village doesn’t have the authority to enforce the governor’s ban, he warned that by opening their doors to indoor service, bar and restaurant owners could face public backlash of a different kind.
“I’m worried about the potential negative effect on them,” Ketchmark said. “How is that viewed by people? There’s always that potential with social media, and it can take off really fast. I know they’re struggling, but could they make it worse? There’s potential for that, too.”