Weather Updates

City Council OKs dining outdoors until midnight downtown

Updated: July 6, 2011 6:27PM

Chicago’s outdoor patios and rooftop gardens would be free to stay open until midnight, under a seasonal test advanced by the City Council Wednesday to accommodate international travelers who love to stay out late.

At the behest of downtown Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd), aldermen agreed to push back the mandatory closing time for the city’s 70 outdoor patios and rooftop gardens. Those establishments currently stop serving at 11 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and at midnight on Friday and Saturday.

Reilly said the change was suggested by the Illinois Restaurant Association, the Illinois Hotel Lodging Association and others in the hospitality industry who “recognize that Chicago is becoming a global destination” and needs to change its dining ways to accommodate that popularity.

“With our increasing number of international tourists — they enjoy the later evening hours for outdoor dining and drinking beverages,” the alderman said last week.

“Other cities across the country have later hours for this use. We simply want to give this a chance here in downtown Chicago.”

The midnight closing would be confined to the Central Business District and impact “roughly 70” establishments.

It would expire Dec. 1, so City Hall can gauge the impact on surrounding residents.

“A four-month trial should relieve anybody who’s concerned about a negative impact on an ongoing basis. … We didn’t want to have this citywide and then have some issues,” Reilly said.

“If it’s determined that it was successful and there were no negative impacts to neighborhoods or neighbors, perhaps we could put it back into effect next year. … If it’s determined that this was not a good program, it’s ended.”

During a committee meeting last week, Ald. Tom Tunney (44th), owner of Ann Sather’s Restaurants, said he’s supportive of the later hours. But he wondered whether “the density of high-rise residential living adjacent” to rooftop gardens had generated complaints from “some of our newer residents in these high-rises.”

Reilly acknowledged that there have been periodic complaints, prompting his office to “intervene directly with the business owner” to make certain area residents can get some sleep.

“By putting this forward, it comes with some risk that people may get upset. That’s why we put the sunset provision in. But I’m certainly happy to take that on,” he said.

“We’re gonna have a lengthy conversation … with the industry to make sure they are on their very best behavior and in compliance with city code. We do not want this to become a burden for the neighbors or the city.”

Five years ago, the City Council added two extra months to the outdoor dining season — by allowing Chicago’s 700 sidewalk cafes to open one month earlier and close one month later.

Tables and chairs are now set outside on March 1 and remain there until Dec. 1. The Illnois Restaurant Association championed the change and argued that alfresco dining “gives the city added character” and is “part of the personality of Chicago.”

Two years later, aldermen agreed to let dog owners bring pets along to sidewalk cafes provided they “keep their dogs on a leash at all times and keep their dogs under control.”

The latest change is limited to rooftop gardens and outdoor patios open in the downtown area. But Reilly also plans to impose a midnight closing for the many sidewalk cafes in his ward, which currently close at 11 p.m. In every other ward, sidewalk cafes can stay open until midnight.

Setting the stage for Paul McCartney to play Wrigley Field on July 31 and Aug. 1, the City Council also approved a two-night exception to the ordinance establishing a 30-game ceiling on the number of night games and events at Wrigley.

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