East Dubuque council votes to end outdoor dining, drinking as weather turns

EAST DUBUQUE, Ill. — After a summer full of outdoor dining, East Dubuque City Council members this week voted to end the ordinance that allowed restaurants to set up tables in parking spaces outside.

“We have allowed consumption areas in the city streets since COVID(-19), but the weather is forcing it to end,” said City Manager Loras Herrig. “When it snowed (Monday), it was kind of like I don’t think there is much action going on anymore. We have to start plowing city streets, so we need to take an official action on that.”

Council members in late May approved the ordinance granting liquor license holders permission to utilize the parking spaces. The vote came after Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced the state would allow businesses to serve food and drinks outside after a prolonged lockdown.

Longtime East Dubuque restaurant owner Mike Meyer said he took advantage of the outside dining option, which greatly bolstered his business this summer when indoor dining was prohibited for Illinois restaurants.

“Having the outdoor consumption area increased our occupancy by 66 people,” said Meyer, owner of The Other Side. “That’s enormous. It better than doubled our ability. In the summer with the car show and there were lots of things going on, it was a tremendous help for us.”

Earlier this month, the Illinois Department of Public Health has mandated that restaurants and bars in Jo Daviess County, along with eight other counties, restrict offering indoor dining or bar services, citing the region’s high seven-day COVID-19 positivity rates.

Under those restrictions, bars and restaurants must close by 11 p.m. and cannot open earlier than 6 a.m. the following day. And meetings and social gatherings, both indoors and outdoors, were limited to the lesser of 25 guests or 25% of room capacity.

On Sunday, new rules took effect that included reducing the maximum party size at bar or restaurant tables from 10 to six people and reducing the maximum size of an indoor or outdoor “gathering” to 10 people, down from 25.

Jeremy McDowell, co-owner of Midtown Marina in East Dubuque, said being able to serve both food and drinks to guests on the patio this summer was wonderful for his business.

“We had a great summer,” he said.

Mulgrew’s Tavern and Restaurant had about six tables set up on the street to offer outdoor dining to customers, said Manager Terissa Ohnesorge.

“It was helpful when we were doing it,” she said. “Of course, we would much rather have people inside of our building.”

Herrig said City Council members would consider reinstating the outdoor dining ordinance if representatives from bars or restaurants approach them.

“Logistically, it is really tough because they were allowed in the street, and we get into, what if there is a 6-inch snowstorm?” he said. “We would do anything if we were approached by local merchants, restaurants and bars. I know the council would be receptive of helping them in any way we could.”