Super Bowl fun at Chicago bars, restaurants looks different during COVID-19 pandemic

CHICAGO (WLS) -- At the The Rambler Kitchen and Tap in North Center, the cooks are busy, the food is hot and General Manager Matt Nolan is preparing for Super Bowl Sunday on a much smaller scale.

In years past, Nolan said Super Bowl Sunday was normally one of the busiest days of the year, right after New Year's Eve and St. Patrick's Day. But the pandemic has changed everything for bars and restaurants across Chicago.

"Monetarily, it used to be probably one of the busiest days of the year," Nolan said. "Now it's going to be interesting to see how all that turns out. We're happy just to be around and still be here."

This year, establishments face COVID-19 mitigation rules: 25% capacity or 25 people per space, whichever is less. Tables must be six feet apart, with six chairs max.

For Nolan, success is defined differently this year.

"The benchmark of success was how busy can you be? How many people can you have in here?" Nolan recalled of years past. "Now the benchmark of success is how safe can you keep everyone? How distant can you keep everyone?"

Down the road in Wicker Park, the same is true for Whiskey Business, where the rooftop - complete with "love shacks" - is keeping business afloat during the pandemic.

"With limited capacities with only 25 people, I don't think it's going to be crazy in here, but I think it will be a good time," said Tony Contri, a managing partner at Whiskey Business, which serves up 115 Whiskey varieties.

A limited number of people will be at Chicago bars this year. Whiskey Business and The Rambler still have space available to watch the world's most-matched sporting event.

"Despite being in a pandemic, we're going to have fun for the Super Bowl," Nolan said.

Looking ahead, the general managers and business owners said it's critical to be flexible and nimble to survive the pandemic, even past the Super Bowl.

"Every day something could change," Contri said. "One day it's like, you can open at 9 o'clock, another day it's 11 p.m. The next day it's like, no you gotta stay closed. Having to go through all of that."

On Super Bowl Sunday, fun is the focus, whether that's games or raffle giveaways for coolers and dart boards.

"You're able to come out and relax and unwind for a couple of minutes, couple of hours," Nolan said. "Have great food, great drinks, great company around while you do it."

Super Bowl fun 2021. It's unlike any other year.
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