Toons Bar & Grill was up for grabs last year when the Kansas City Chiefs took control of last year’s Super Bowl en route to a 31-20 win over the San Francisco 49ers.
The Wrigleyville bar at 3857 N. Southport Ave. has become the unofficial home for Chiefs fans in Chicago.
Kansas City Chiefs will be back in the Super Bowl on Sunday — this time facing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa — but the crowd at Toons will be much smaller because of restrictions to combat COVID-19, which has killed more than 19,000 people in Illinois.
Officials have limited indoor service at Chicago bars and restaurants to 25% capacity or up to 25 people per space, and no more than six people can sit at a table. And while bar and restaurant owners are grateful for indoor service during the coldest stretch of winter, the limitations highlight the delicate balance between safety and the survival of businesses.
Rich Hagerty, general manager at Toons, said the bar will operate on a “first come, first serve basis.”
“I’ve been taking phone calls since the AFC Championship game with people trying to make reservations, but we just can’t really go that route … It’s a big loss financially for sure,” Hagerty said.
Bars and restaurants aren’t the only place with lots of empty seats this year. Attendance at The Big Game has been capped at 22,000, which includes 7,500 health care workers. The stadium will be about a third full.
Still, public health officials are urging caution after a surge in coronavirus cases after residents gathered for national holidays and regional watch parties for local sports teams. Gatherings last fall to watch the NBA champion Lakers and World Series champion Dodgers may have contributed to a rise in coronavirus cases in Southern California, according to health officials in Los Angeles.
Dr. Allison Arwady, Chicago’s top public health official, urged residents to avoid large gatherings during the Super Bowl. And Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, said people should stay home instead of attending a Super Bowl party during the pandemic.
“You don’t want parties with people that you haven’t had much contact with,” Fauci told NBC’s “Today” show. “You just don’t know if they’re infected, so, as difficult as that is, at least this time around, just lay low and cool it.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is encouraging people to watch the game virtually with others or people you already live with.
The warnings come as new COVID-19 infections in the U.S. are falling, but highly contagious variants from Brazil, South Africa and the United Kingdom have scientists worried amid a slow vaccine rollout.
Yet, recent polls found that nearly 30% of adults said they’d attend a Super Bowl party or watch the game at a bar or restaurant. Only time will tell how many Chicagoans will go out with single-digit temperatures expected all day Sunday.
Bars “fighting to survive” will miss Super Bowl revenue
Tom Piazza, owner of McGee’s Tavern & Grille in Lincoln Park, said he plans to have as many as 100 guests spread out in four different sections.
Piazza said he’s thankful the city reopened indoor dining in time for the Super Bowl since the arctic blast has made outdoor dining unreasonable.
“Like many family owned small businesses, we’re fighting to survive just like the rest,” Piazza said.
Hagerty, the general manager at Toons, said on Super Bowl Sunday in normal times the bar could make four or five times what it pulls in on a normal winter night.
He believes establishments that follow the rules should be allowed to increase capacity and thinks Toons could safely operate at up to 75% capacity, instead of the current 25% capacity limitation.
“We follow all the rules here. Everything they’ve asked us to do we’ve done. I don’t see any reason we couldn’t do it safely,” he said.
Rosa Escareńo, Chiago’s Commissioner for Business Affairs and Consumer Protection, said the city is doing what is safe.
“We’ve learned how to hold celebrations in a very different way,” Escareńo said. “I think just based on our enforcement and the way businesses have been operating during this pandemic, they have shown a great deal of responsibility.”
Despite the responsibility, the limitations remain, much to the chagrin of many bar and restaurant owners.
The Associated Press contributed to this report. Michael Puente covers Northwest Indiana for WBEZ. Follow him on Twitter @MikePuenteNews.