The Shamrock Club, on Kinzie Street in River North, is about a block away from the Chicago River. On Saturday morning, the tiny bar is standing room only, shoulder-to-shoulder. Hardly anyone is wearing a mask.
Christa Morris sips a green beer at a high top table.
“I accepted the fact that it was gonna be a crazy day and no one was going to be wearing masks and it was going to be back to normal,” she said. “I’m feeling okay about it.”
Today was Morris’s first time seeing the Chicago River dyed green – the annual tradition was canceled in 2020 and, in 2021, Mayor Lori Lightfoot greenlighted the coloring of the waterway but didn’t announce the event to prevent crowds from gathering during a surge of COVID-19 cases.
Shamrock Club owner Mary Gabriel is posted near the front, a stack of receipts piled in front of her.
“I think after the two-year hiatus, everybody’s coming out today just to show support for the city and for the restaurant and bar owners who really have been suffering the past couple of years,” she said. “I’ve seen a lot of businesses go out. And … fortunately for us, we’ve been able to hang in there because we have a small staff and a small space.”
Many downtown restaurants and bars lost business when offices shifted to remote work. Gabriel says her bar, in business for 33 years, was fortunate to be located near apartment buildings and stayed afloat thanks to a loyal customer base.
Across the bar, Josh Lichty is decked out in green. Lichty has traveled to Chicago from Wisconsin, where the state mask mandate had been struck down a year ago. He says this weekend feels different not just because of the holiday but because people seem less apprehensive to connect with each other.
“It’s my first time in general, and it’s living up to the hype so far,” he said. “The river being green is pretty sweet — but just feel the vibe for those Chicagoans who haven’t been able to do it for years. It’s a fun atmosphere. Let’s get out and celebrate life. Let’s move on.”
Becky Vevea covers Chicago government and politics for WBEZ. Follow her @beckyvevea.