College basketball fans aren't the only ones cheering as the March Madness tournaments get underway.
"There will be zero room for walk-ins. We're actually pretty full right now," said Matt Miller, the manager of sports bar The Fifty/50.
As COVID-19 cases decline, bars say they are excited to welcome NCAA fans safely back to their tables and patios, even if capacity is still partially limited.
"In previous years we were worried about capacity because of the fire department, but this year we're kind of worried about capacity with the health department. There's only so much space we can get people in here," Sean Bogardus of Kilroy's Pub said.
Many bar owners say the return of the tournaments and the fans is a welcome sight after a year of financial hurdles brought on by the pandemic.
"It's going to be really tough to get back to that old normal, considering that we've experienced a worldwide pandemic. There's been so many changes in the last year that I think, you know, restaurants have, we've had to adapt and evolve. I think there's some changes that are, you know, in place possibly for good," Miller said.
But as fans head out to cheer on their alma maters, health officials are still advising caution.
"Certainly we're excited because we do have some local teams here that are looking pretty good in terms of the NCAA. But obviously we are a long way from being past COVID here, and we're really aware that in the second half of March or at the beginning of April, we're not yet at a point where we can just say, you know, open it up, let's come on out," said Chicago Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady.
Bars say they will do everything they can to make sure fans and staff stay safe.
"I feel good with what we've done as a company and just staying right along, you know, steady with what the city is doing," Miller said. "We'll likely have to turn some people away, just because we're only at the 50% capacity."
They just need fans to be team players when it comes to social distancing measures.
"The key is, if everyone plays by the rules," Miller said. "I think the more prosperous, you know, restaurants are going to be, even at, even at 50% capacity, which is, you know, a lot better than 25% capacity. It's a lot better than being closed for just delivery and pickups."
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