Bars and restaurants throughout Forest Park opened up for outdoor seating on May 29 as the governor relaxed restrictions as the state moved into phase three of the Reopen Illinois plan.

On Roosevelt Road, Charlie’s Restaurant set up tables and chairs outdoors.

“It means the world to us,” said owner Charlie Philippou. “We appreciate all our amazing employees and customers who have supported us throughout. It feels like we just had a grand reopening.”

In fact, Charlie’s celebrated a reopening just over a year ago. Previously operating under the name Andrea’s, a fire devastated the restaurant in March 2018. It took over a year to complete renovations, and in April 2019 the restaurant reopened as Charlie’s.

Philippou said they’re grateful to have a great space for outdoor dining.

“Right now we have 15 tables set up with seating capacity of one to six people at each, obviously all six feet apart,” said Philippou. He said that with a new outdoor paint job on the restaurant and improvements to Roosevelt Road, they’re happy with the outdoor environment and “are excited to get back into the swing of things.”

Madison Street was filled with outdoor tables as restaurants and bars, some, like Duffy’s, that hadn’t been open since COVID-19 forced shutdowns, served customers outside.

Forest Park resident Alison Buchheit took the opportunity to have dinner outdoors at Mexican Republic. “It was so nice to have things back to normal,” said Buchheit. “It was awesome being out again.”

The Forest Park Chamber of Commerce said over 20 restaurants and bars were open with outdoor seating on May 30, and they reminded customers that masks must be work when not eating and drinking. All the restaurants, as required by state guidelines, have procedures in place to ensure employees and customers are safe.

Old School Tavern and Grill announced on their Facebook page that per state rules, customers are asked to wear a mask when they arrive until they are seated. And any time they come inside, a mask must be donned.

Scratch Kitchen’s patios are open, and customers are asked to call to add their names to the wait list. They will be texted when a table is ready. In addition, the restaurant has contact free ordering and payment systems in place, plus sanitizing stations.

On Friday evening, Mayor Rory Hoskins, Village Administrator Tim Gillian and Building and Zoning Director Steve Glinke walked Madison Street. Gillian said he and Glinke stopped in every restaurant or bar that was open.

“It was so great to see everyone out and about,” said Gillian. “It felt great to see the town come alive again.”

The smiles of people gathering (safely) once more after weeks of shutdown didn’t tell the whole story, though. Behind the scenes, the collaborative effort on the parts of the chamber and village to pull everything together intensified on May 24 when Governor J. B. Pritzker and the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) released guidelines dictating the requirements of restaurants and bars upon reopening for outdoor service.

According to Glinke, it was a big undertaking to make sure everyone was permitted and ready to go, an effort that included communicating the guidelines to the businesses and multiple virtual meetings between the chamber and village officials. It also involved discussions about how to safely allow restaurants, even those without outdoor dining permits, to participate in reopening.

Gillian said that over the past few weeks, several times a week, he and Glinke spoke with the chamber and businesses to figure out how to meet as many of the businesses’ needs as possible.

“Steve [Glinke] literally went to every single restaurant and bar in the past week or two to find out how the reopening would work for them and what they needed,” said Gillian. “He worked tirelessly to help with solutions, from setting up seating to moving planters or benches. Whatever they needed, he figured out how to best achieve it while maintaining safety.”

Gillian commended the chamber, of which his wife Dorothy Gillian is president, for being such a force behind helping the business community, and he said the efforts by Glinke, Hoskins and the public works department were tremendous.

“It was the way it should be,” said Gillian. “I couldn’t be more proud of this group.”