Chicago

Chicagoans begin to consider the possibilities of life beyond COVID-19

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.

Owner Linda Ellis outside Famous Dutch Pancake Huis – Pannenkoeken Cafe.
Stefano Esposito/Sun-Times

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.

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.”

Owner Steve Krater at O’Leary’s Public House at 541 N Wells in River North, Friday, June 11, 2021.

Steve Krater, owner of O’Leary’s Public House
Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

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