Chicago bars are open but illegal parties are still on the rise in the city

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Chicago has seen a notable increase in illegal parties since the early stages of the pandemic, with revelers gathering, often unmasked and side by side, in vacant spaces that organizers are turning into unlicensed clubs. In 2020, many attributed the problem to an indoor eating and drinking ban due to COVID-19. But even as the city’s bars and clubs resumed somewhat normal operations, secret social club parties continued, sometimes with tragic results.

The city has closed three such clubs in recent months after two shootings, including one in December that killed one participant, Meagan Bilbo, 19, and injured two others. Now elected officials say these parties and the clubs that run them are sprouting up all over the city, Block Chicago Club reports. The emergence of such events in 2020 prompted the city to create a task force to identify and stop them. That year, he issued more than 50 tickets for operating without a license and nearly 70 cease-and-desist orders, a representative told reporters. In 2021, those numbers jumped to 75 license violations and 101 cease and desist orders.

Some of the first incidents of such occurrences, which at the time ran counter to pandemic mandates that left bar and club operators with extremely limited cash, came to light in late 2020. In November, police dismantled a 300 people raged at Bedford, a former restaurant on the northwest corner of Ashland and Division, where attendees ignored the city’s Thanksgiving advisory for Chicagoans to stay home. The following month, the city shut down a 142-person “Wicker Loft” event on Milwaukee Avenue, complete with a bouncer and a line of potential revelers.

Chicagoans join nationwide movement to say ‘nyet’ to Russian booze

Local bars, restaurants and liquor stores are joining the sanctions against Russia by refusing to sell Russian liquor. Grand Duke’s, a Lithuanian restaurant in the suburb of Downer’s Grove, has converted its stock of Beluga vodka to hand sanitizer, WGN 9 Reports. Meanwhile, Binny’s Beverage Depot announced on Monday that it was removing all Russian-made products from its stores, but not all vodkas: “A lot of vodkas, even those with Russian-sounding names, are made in places close to home,” said Greg Versch, a spokesperson for the store, says NBC 5. (Stoli, for example, is actually Latvian, and Smirnoff is owned by a British company and produced in the suburb of Plainfield.)

They join a national movement within the alcohol industry. Several state governors asked state-run liquor stores to stop selling Russian spirits, and the Oregon Alcohol and Cannabis Commission (OLCC) announced on Monday that it will begin sequestering Russian-owned and produced vodkas at its distribution center and has asked stores to remove them from shelves. KGB Bar, a Soviet themed bar in New York, publicly threw away all his Russian beer in favor of Ukrainian brands.

Russian Standard vodka will no longer be sold at Binny’s.
Photo by Creative Touch Imaging Ltd./NurPhoto via Getty Images

Portillo’s opens in Texas y’all

Portillo’s, Chicago’s fast-food joint beloved for its hot dogs, Italian beef and chocolate cake, will open its first location in Texas later this year, the Dallas Morning News reports, in Warren Buffett’s Grandscape development in The Colony outside of Dallas. It will be the first of 18 to 20 locations that Portillo CEO Michael Osanloo plans to open in the Dallas-Fort Worth area over the next five years. In related news, Osanloo confirmed Portillo’s identity to the morning news once and for all: “This is not a hot dog restaurant. This is an Italian beef place. Glad it’s settled.

Portillo’s filed for IPO in September and plans to expand to 600 restaurants; it currently has 67 locations in eight states.

A Chicago icon, the steakhouse, has been hit hard by the pandemic

Of all the restaurant sectors that have been impacted during the pandemic, Crain’s reports, few have struggled more than steakhouses. Over the past two years, the number of steakhouses in the city has grown from 52 to 37, with losses including Ruth’s Chris in River North, Morton’s on State Street and the venerable Lawry’s just off Michigan Avenue. Steakhouses’ main clientele — business travelers with expense accounts and people celebrating something — has dried up, and steak doesn’t travel well as a take-out meal.

Hyde Park bartender stabbed to death

Diego Damis, 41, a regular-turned-bartender at The Cove in Hyde Park, was stabbed to death at Kenwood early Friday morning on his way home from work, the Sun-Times reports. Damis, who immigrated to Chicago from Italy in 2015, was known throughout the neighborhood for his generosity and willingness to nurture colleagues and clients. His friends set up a GoFundMe campaign to help his family pay for the funeral arrangements, and the creek will be holding a candlelight vigil in his memory this Friday evening, March 4.

Arrest made in series of robberies at Asian-owned business in city center

An Uptown man was arrested in connection with a series of burglaries of Asian-owned businesses on and around Argyle Street in February, Block Club Reports. Larry Banks, 48, was charged with breaking and entering cash from Immm Rice & Beyond on February 21 and two other Argyle businesses on February 12. Burglars from other restaurants – Nhu Lan Bakery & Sandwiches, China Cafe and Hunan Egg Roll King – stay at large.

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