Open for business

"I would be cautious," health director says

Some local restaurants are reopening what looks like indoor dining, with the blessing of the Sangamon County Department of Public Health.

“We just got updated from the Health Dept. that since we can open 50% or more of our front windows, like the last outdoor dining sanction months ago, we are able once again to seat some tables inside, as per COVID guidelines,” Finley’s Tap House announced on its Facebook page today.
click to enlarge Big screen TVs were on but masks and coats were rare at the Home Plate Bar and Grill on Tuesday while customers ate and drank. - PHOTO BY BRUCE RUSHTON
Photo by Bruce Rushton
Big screen TVs were on but masks and coats were rare at the Home Plate Bar and Grill on Tuesday while customers ate and drank.

Sangamo Brewing in Chatham is also open for business, according to a Tuesday afternoon Facebook post reminding the hungry that it is Taco Tuesday. “Health Department just cleared us for some interior seating as long as our garage door is open!” the bar announced this afternoon.

With the temperature in the 40s and rain falling, Home Plate Bar and Grill on Koke Mill Road appeared busy tonight, with five or six people sitting around most tables and football games playing on big-screen televisions. Few, if any patrons, wore coats, nor were many wearing masks. Diners were seated an area that looked to be a patio protected from the weather by tent-like material with plastic windows, none of which appeared open when a reporter walked around the building.

Why are you open? “Because they said we could do it – otherwise, it’s not OK,” answers Jeff Friedman, who said he is the owner’s husband.

Gail O’Neill, director of the Sangamon County Department of Public Health, confirmed that her agency has approved dining at Sangamo Brewing, Finley’s Tap House and other businesses, so long as half of the walls are open. Friedman said that a large door that separates the area open for dining from other parts of the building is kept open and so meets criteria, and he said that the health department has given approval. No more than six people can sit at a table, and tables must be six feet apart.

Asked if she would eat or dine in a bar or restaurant that has won approval to remain open by virtue of keeping doors or windows open. O’Neill first said “I hate to be cold.” Asked again, given increasing number of infections and deaths and pleas from public health authorities to avoid Thanksgiving gatherings, O’Neill said “I would be cautious.”

Friedman said that on-premises dining is make-or-break for Home Plate. Typically, he said, about 150 people would be in the bar during an early evening, but slightly fewer than 50 were there Tuesday due to social distancing requirements. Jordan Blevins, managing partner of Finley’s Tap House, said he’ll be able to seat 10 tables, each six feet apart, under health department instructions.

“We just found out this morning,” Blevins said. “We’re excited about it.”

Blevins said he believes that dining inside, so long as the required percentage of walls are open, is safer than dining in a tent. He also said he doesn’t believe bars and restaurants are fueling the pandemic.

“I don’t believe there’s been one instance of any spread coming from any restaurant in Sangamon County since March,” he said. “Come on in.”

Contact Bruce Rushton at

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