Chicagoans begin to consider the possibilities of life beyond COVID-19Stefano Espositoon June 11, 2021 at 9:15 pm

Anthony Brown lounges on the Riverwalk in the loop, Friday, June 11, 2021.
Anthony Brown couldn’t hide his excitement for what lies ahead in Chicago now that the worst of the pandemic may be over. | Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Almost all coronavirus restrictions were lifted Friday in the city and state.

Chris Gideon sat with his partner in one of the city’s tiniest breakfast spots Friday morning — a place they would have been “very hesitant” to step inside a few months ago — and considered a world of new possibilities.

“It feels really, really, really good,” said Gideon, 22, finishing up breakfast with Lexi Faulkner, 23, at Famous Dutch Pancake Huis – Pannenkoeken Cafe on the North Side.

He said he’s considering going to a bar to play pool later Friday — “something that seems kind of new and really exciting.”

The popular breakfast spot has just seven tables, all squeezed together in a 680-square-foot dining room. Out of respect for COVID-19 “etiquette,” Gideon and Faulkner wore masks but quickly took them off, realizing they had little to fear because both are vaccinated.

A collective sense of relief, even joy, rippled through breakfast joints, gyms, bars and restaurants, as the city opened up Friday, finally doing away with almost all of the coronavirus restrictions that had been in place for so many months.

But the city’s new-found freedom didn’t erase the pain of the recent past.

“Psychologically, it was difficult to come in and put on a happy face and just feel confident things were going to be OK,” said Pannenkoeken’s owner, Linda Ellis. “It wasn’t OK. It was tough. … I thought we were going to close our doors, actually. We barely stayed afloat.”

Ellis said she had to lay off half of her staff during the worst of the pandemic. And even when the restaurant was allowed to reopen after the initial lockdown, customers would sometimes come into the cramped space and then quickly leave.

“We could hear them saying, ‘Oh no, we’re not comfortable with this,’” Ellis said.

So Ellis is now cautiously optimistic.

“I feel hopeful,” she said.

Linda Ellis stands outside her North Side breakfast joint, Famous Dutch Pancake Huis - Pannenkoeken Cafe.
Stefano Esposito/Sun-Times
Owner Linda Ellis outside Famous Dutch Pancake Huis – Pannenkoeken Cafe.

Anthony Brown, 30, was reclining in a shady spot along the Chicago Riverwalk Friday morning. He’d just been on a 2-mile jog with a buddy. He said he hadn’t given too much thought to the big reopening — in part because he’s been enjoying the outdoors so much.

But Brown couldn’t hide his excitement for what lies ahead in Chicago, now that it appears the worst of the pandemic may be over.

“It’s the best city in the world — especially during spring and summer. So I definitely feel it’s a breath of fresh air. It’s an exciting time. A lot of the stuff you can do in Chicago — it looks like we’ll have access to after this weekend,” Brown said.

The Chicago Archdiocese eased most pandemic restrictions Friday to coincide with the city’s and state’s reopening.

“It’s nice. … No more signing in and all that,” Pell Aguada said after attending midday Mass at Holy Name Cathedral of Friday.

Pell Aguada is a parishioner of St. William Catholic Church but was at Holy Name for her daughter’s 21st birthday.

Aliza Aguada said going to church is a family tradition and that she’s glad to be back at her local church and at Holy Name.

“As soon as they said, ‘We’re opening back up,’ we started going back right away,” Aliza Aquada said.

Marvin Washington poses for a portrait at Blues Barber Shop at 1376 E 53rd St in Hyde Park, Friday, June 11, 2021.
Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times
Marvin Washington at Blues Barber Shop in Hyde Park

Marvin Washington cuts hair at Blues Barber Shop in Hyde Park — and has done so for 30 years.

“I cut every texture of hair on the planet Earth,” he said.

But a lot less during the lean months of the pandemic.

“I have other talents. I do little construction side jobs in order to keep the bills paid and keep some groceries in the house,” Washington said.

Even though he wasn’t trimming their hair, Washington checked in on customers, some of whom he’s known for 20 years.

“Whole entire families. You start cutting grandpa and their sons and their sons’ sons,” he said.

He said five of his clients died from the coronavirus.

Business is finally picking up again, he said.

“We’re getting a lot of walk-ins today, a lot of people who have enormous beards, the long hair …,” he said with a chuckle. “We’re kind of transforming people back into themselves.”

In Wrigleyville, Sluggers bartender Monika Lupo said it was refreshing to see people’s smiles and to hear their orders more clearly.

“This is the first day that we’ve opened back up fully, and we finally have stools behind the bar,” said Lupo. “Today’s a great day.”

Sluggers co-owner Zach Strauss, whose father opened the bar on Clark Street 36 years ago, said the pandemic restrictions took a toll on the bar.

“It was hard because we are the opposite of social distancing. We weren’t allowed to have dancing or have live music,” Strauss said.

“I’ve been here since day one, through the highs and the lows. And [the pandemic] was definitely the lowest,” he said. “But we had no choice but to make it work, so my brothers and I worked all the way through it. … This day is wonderful.”

Owner Steve Krater at O’Leary’s Public House at 541 N Wells in River North, Friday, June 11, 2021.
Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times
Steve Krater, owner of O’Leary’s Public House

Steve Krater, who owns O’Leary’s Public House in River North, endured both the lockdown as well as looting during the protests in June 2020.

“It was a horrible mess,” Krater said. “Every window was broken. They ripped out the ATM. I found that in the middle of the street.”

Krater said he put up tents with heaters — something that helped his bar “get through the winter, limping along, barely surviving.”

He said he thought about closing for good. Four other bars nearby did just that.

“We thought about it from time to time. We just hoped it would get better. It did, and it has. We’re lucky to survive,” he said.

He said he’s excited for the summer season.

“People are ready,” Krater said. “A lot of people are going to be out today. It was really busy last night. People are out with their dogs and they have a beer. They’re not as apprehensive as they used to be. … Hopefully this is the end. Hopefully, we don’t go backwards.”

Read More

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *