Clark Street Outdoor Dining to Return Without Pedestrianized Roads

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The city has modified the Clark Street outdoor dining program, a saga that has gripped River North restaurant owners, the area’s alderman, and residents torn between enjoying the city’s few scant weeks of al fresco dining in the summer and those who abhor the season’s traffic jams.

Mayor Brandon Johnson is allowing restaurants to expand sidewalk patios, but won’t close Clark, between Grand and Kinzie, to auto traffic: “The format will give participating restaurants extra capacity and create an inviting outdoor space for dining while taking into account the need for accessibility and traffic flow in the River North community,” a news release sent by the mayor’s office reads.

The city, following others across the country, pedestrianized streets as the pandemic safeguards closed dining rooms in 2020 and 2021. Restaurants lucky enough to be in those areas saw a boost in business. The city, under former Mayor Lori Lightfoot, saw it as a way to bring energy to Downtown Chicago; most workers were staying at home and keeping offices empty. But those away from Clark saw it as an unfair advantage — they couldn’t expand their seating and it made it harder for customers to get to their establishments. They wanted the program to sunset to restore balance. While supporters enjoyed the European open market feel of the pedestrianized streets, objectors didn’t say they signed up for summer festival traffic 24/7.

It’s not a perfect compromise, especially when bicycles and delivery drivers are concerned. But the program has been saved through October meaning the debate will reignite in 2025.

Cook County punts on tipped minimum wage

As Chicago has voted toward phasing out the tipped minimum wage, Cook County lawmakers are punting, pushing the state to make a decision. Earlier this week, county commissioners approved a resolution in supporting the state’s efforts to abolish the tipped minimum wage, the subject of a nationwide progressive campaign, backed by One Fair Wage. While the county didn’t follow Chicago’s lead, the resolution — more of a symbolic action — calls attention to the debate in Springfield. The state minimum wage is $14 per hour, and the so-called subminimum wage is $8.40; certain municipalities, if they’re large enough — like Chicago — can create laws that supersede the state’s jurisdiction. Legally, workers won’t get paid that lower wage with the gap paid by tips, which can be likened to a government subsidy for restaurants. Why would the county push this to the state level? Perhaps they wanted to avoid a piecemeal solution, wanting the state to create uniformity.

AAPI Restaurants Week starts

Today marks the first day of the third-annual AAPI Restaurants Week, a celebration of restaurants owned by Asian Americans — not everyone is serving and selling Asian food. The restaurants may offer discounts, a prix fixe menu, or donate money to a charity of their choice. The event, which goes from Friday, May 17 through Sunday, May 26, is hosted by OCA-Asian Pacific American Advocates, Look for places like Thattu, Verzanay, Bites, Laos to Your House, Side Practice Coffee, and more.

The Cubs turn to Alpana

Alpana Singh, the proprietor of Alpana in Gold Coast and the longtime host of Check, Please!, will hurl the ceremonial first pitch on Sunday at Wrigley Field before the Cubs take on the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Pirates were coincidentally the subject of Disney’s Million Dollar Arm. Singh tells Eater the team called her to celebrate AAPI month. She adds her career as a master sommelier, which involves opening and pouring many bottles of wine, has primed her for this moment with her pitching arm ready.

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