Cafe Streets are helping out local businesses in the ‘burbs

On-street dining in Arlington Heights. Photo: Amber Drea
On-street dining in Arlington Heights. Photo: Amber Drea

While restaurants in Chicago’s suburbs often have more available space for outdoor seating than those in urban neighborhoods, some towns with relatively dense downtowns are following Chicago’s lead in creating Cafe Streets, opening roadways to make room for socially distanced dining during COVD-19. Over the weekend I visited a few of these areas to see how they’re faring.

Arlington Heights

In the northwest suburb of Arlington Heights, four blocks at the intersection of Campbell Street and Vail Avenue have been opened to allow restaurants to set up large outdoor dining sections on the sidewalks and parking lanes, with pedestrians using the center of the street. On Saturday evening, the pedestrianized zone — dubbed Arlington Alfresco — was bustling with groups of people enjoying drinks and food at tables or strolling through the wide open streets. Signs are posted throughout the area listing the rules and recommendations, including wearing face coverings, keeping six feet away radius from others, and not entering the area if you exhibit symptoms. 

Outdoor dining at Arlington Alfresco. Photo: Amber Drea
Outdoor dining at Arlington Alfresco. Photo: Amber Drea

Signs encourage visitors to walk in the street in the usual direction of traffic to maintain social distance, and stickers have been placed on the pavement at regular intervals as additional reminders. Biking and pets are prohibited, and alcohol consumption is limited to the fenced-in sections in front of each venue. Businesses that have expanded their outside seating include Cortland’s Garage, Armand’s Pizzeria, Salsa 17, Carlos & Carlos Ristorante, Beer on the Wall, which has a walk-up service window, and the boozy painting studio Bottle and Bottega.

Signs encouraging social distancing at Arlington Alfresco. Photo: Amber Drea
Signs encouraging social distancing at Arlington Alfresco. Photo: Amber Drea

Brookfield

The near-western suburb of Brookfield recently began pedestrianizing a half block of Grand Boulevard close to its intersection with Brookfield Avenue and Prairie Avenue. The boulevard will be opened for diners and pedestrians every week from Thursday through Sunday evening through Labor Day. On Saturday, the area was moderately busy with at least two or three groups sitting outside each bar or restaurant. 

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Grand Boulevard in Brookfield. Photo: Amber Drea

Businesses participating in the weekly event included The Little Owl, Sebastian’s Ale & Whiskey House, Zoo City Treats and Burger Antics, which was the busiest venue by far. There is still plenty of car parking on the other half of the block, including temporary disabled spots that have been designated near the area’s entrance.

Glen Ellyn and Wheaton

Continuing west, the communities of Glen Ellyn and Wheaton have each closed one block in their respective downtowns and set up large tents for outdoor dining to protect patrons from sun and rain. In Glen Ellyn, several nearby restaurants — including Fire & Wine, Sushi Ukai, Nobel House, and Shannon’s Irish Pub — may use the space, which comprises a portion of Main Street just south of Duane Street, to seat their guests. 

The Glen Ellyn dining tent. Photo: Amber Drea
The Glen Ellyn dining tent. Photo: Amber Drea

In Wheaton, Hale Street has been opened between Front Street and Wesley Street, and two large tents have been set up to serve local eateries, including Egg’lectic Cafe, Gia Mia, Hale Street Cantina and The Burger Social. In both towns, the tables are spaced at least six feet apart from one another, and guests are encouraged to wear face coverings when they’re not seated. Alcohol may also be consumed in the tented areas. 

St. Charles and Batavia

Even further west on the Fox River, at least two towns have designated zones for outdoor dining. In St. Charles, a portion of First Street is pedestrianized from Main Street to the local parking garage entrance. The large plaza in front of the newly opened Alter Brewing & Kitchen is now available for the venue to serve customers, and there are additional benches scattered throughout the region. La Za’ Za’ Trattoria and La Mesa Modern Mexican have also created fenced-in patios to seat guests. Alcohol can only be consumed in these blocked-off areas. The city plans to continue this set-up through Halloween.

On-street dining in St. Charles. Photo: Amber Drea
On-street dining in St. Charles. Photo: Amber Drea

In Batavia, the semi-pedestrianized brick-paved section of River Street between Wilson Street and State Street has been transformed into a car-free dining space, and alcohol may be consumed anywhere within the barriers. Nearby restaurants and bars taking advantage of the new open-air seating include River’s Edge Bar & Grill, Bar Evolution and El Taco Grande. Other businesses, such as The Book Shop, are also benefiting from the increased foot traffic. The city plans to keep this area open to dining through November 30th.

Plainfield

In the south suburb of Plainfield, the city is taking a slightly different tack. The initial proposal was to pedestrianize Lockport Street completely between Des Plaines Street and Fox River Street, but when I stopped by on Sunday, that plan seemed to have changed. Instead of fully pedestrianize any streets, Plainfield has permitted restaurants near the intersection of Lockport and Des Plaines streets to occupy only the sidewalks and parking spaces directly in front of the businesses. Local bars and restaurants that have set up outdoor dining areas include Front Street Cantina, HopScotch & Vine, Capri Sogno, Station One Smokehouse, Uptown Tap and Moe Joe’s. 

Parking space dining in Plainfield. Photo: Amber Drea
Parking space dining in Plainfield. Photo: Amber Drea

Several other suburban towns have instituted similar orders, including McHenry, Woodstock and Hinsdale. These new outdoor dining spaces seem to be a shot in the arm for local businesses during the pandemic, and they’re also a great addition to the restaurant and nightlife scenes in their communities, so I hope they continue as long as the weather permits.

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