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WGLT's reporting on the coronavirus pandemic, which began in McLean County in March 2020.

5 Bloomington Bars, Restaurants Pay Fines For Indoor Dining During COVID

Bar entrance
Eric Stock
/
WGLT
Cheeks Bar and Grill is one of five Bloomington establishments that paid $400 fines for violating the state's indoor dining ban.

Five Bloomington businesses have paid $400 fines to the city for violating the state’s ban on indoor dining during the coronavirus pandemic, city officials said Tuesday.The bars and restaurants are the first establishments in Bloomington-Normal to face penalties for violating a state executive order that McLean County officials have said they are largely unable to enforce.

During the city's liquor commission meeting on Tuesday, Assistant City Attorney George Boyle announced  the city reached settlements with five establishments that admitted to serving customers indoors, against Gov. JB Pritzker’s executive order: Applebee’s, Cheeks Bar & Grill, Eastland Suites, Garden of Paradise and Parkview Inn.

The city previously fined Daddio’s $500 for violating the state’s mask ordinance following a large party last month inside the downtown bar.

Two other COVID-related complaints remain unresolved.

Joe’s Pub co-owner Tony Wargo told the commission the restaurant continued to follow public health protocols, including masks and social distancing, when the restaurant allowed indoor dining after the state returned to Tier 3 mitigations in November.

“We did our part. We continue to do our part. We followed the guidance provided,” Wargo said. “So where did we go wrong in our efforts to curb the spread of COVID?”

Wargo added the business stayed open because shutting down indoor dining would have put some staff out of work.

“Our guests and our staff need us,” he said. “Our great people who need their jobs in order to feed their family. They are your neighbors and friends.”

Joe’s Pub will face a hearing before the commission at 4 p.m. Dec. 15.

Western Tap is considering a settlement and will indicate in the coming days whether it will seek a hearing, according to attorney Tom DeVore.

At the meeting, three Bloomington residents spoke during public comment in support of the bars and restaurants that have been closed to indoor dining during the pandemic.

Mayor Tari Renner, who also serves as the city’s liquor commissioner, didn’t address the nature of the complaints during the virtual meeting.

“None of us want to be here,” Renner said. “I certainly hope that we can get past this as expeditiously as possible.”

He said after the meeting the $400 fine should serve as a deterrent because subsequent offenses would lead to a liquor license suspension. He indicated appealing such a penalty to the Illinois Liquor Control Commission is often time consuming and the business can't operate until the board makes a decision. 

"In this situation it was quite clear that if I really wanted to accomplish compliance, which is really what we are after - not to fine people - you've really got to be strategic about it," Renner said. 

Renner said he settled on the $400 fine after discussions with the city's legal department. He said he wanted an amount higher than the typical minimum, but not so punitive that it would lead to multiple hearings and appeals. 

The city previously decided not to punish 12 bars and restaurants that had allegedly violated the state's indoor dining ban. At the time, Renner acknowledged the city wasn't clear whether it would enforce the order.

In other business, the commission endorsed a modified liquor license for Green Top Grocery to sell spirits. The store already sells packaged beer and wine.

The commission also recommended approval for a restaurant liquor license for Braize to reopen at a new location, 1406 E. Empire St. Braize closed its restaurant on Leslie Drive in east Bloomington this summer.

The recommendations will go before the city council in January.

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Eric Stock is the News Director at WGLT. You can contact Eric at ejstoc1@ilstu.edu.
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