Crews set the table for return of outdoor dining in suburbs
Though temperatures barely registered 40 degrees Wednesday morning, Arlington Heights public works employees were busy putting up fencing along two closed-off streets of the village's downtown -- the first signs that warmer spring and summer temperatures may be around the corner.
But whether the weather cooperates or not, the Northwest suburb will officially usher in its outdoor street dining area starting with lunch service on Friday.
It'll be the third consecutive year for Arlington Alfresco -- a concept born of the pandemic that's been embraced by restaurateurs, patrons and village officials alike.
And though the pedestrian-friendly experience is resuming later this season -- it started before St. Patrick's Day in 2021 -- Arlington Heights is among the first municipalities this year to close portions of streets to make way for diners.
Similar dining areas are returning in the days and weeks ahead to other suburban central business districts, including Mundelein and Wheaton.
In Arlington Heights, the concept has become so popular that it prompted the village board to adopt an additional food and beverage tax to help fund the town's costs of setting up and maintaining the plaza atmosphere. Officials estimate they spend $90,000 a year on Alfresco, including public works overtime, equipment, materials, supplies and signage.
The extra 0.75% tax -- on top of the current 1.25% village food and beverage tax -- already has been applied to indoor diners' bills since Feb. 1 at about a dozen restaurants within the Alfresco zone near Vail Avenue and Campbell Street.
It essentially means paying an extra 75 cents on a $100 meal, or about 8 cents more on a $10 drink.
Something that's free of charge Friday afternoon, however, is live outdoor music. Hey Nonny, the music venue and gastropub, is hosting singer-songwriter Jon Buschner from 4 to 7 p.m. next to business' street and sidewalk tables.
"We're thrilled Arlington Alfresco is coming back," said co-owner Chip Brooks. "People from all over the Chicago area love the magic of downtown Arlington Heights in the summer."
In Mundelein, a stretch of Park Street east of Route 45 will be closed to autos by 4 p.m. Friday so that restaurants on the block -- the Park Street Restaurant, Area Coffee and Tina G's -- can set up tables and begin serving customers starting that night or the next day. It'll also be the third straight year outdoor dining on Park Street will be available.
And next weekend in Wheaton, the city will again close a one-block stretch of Hale Street for alfresco dining within large tents sponsored by Innovator Capital Management and the Downtown Wheaton Association. The tent dining starts Saturday, May 7, outside eight restaurants.
New this year, the tents will host three music locations featuring rotating live performances on Friday and Saturday evenings, starting with the Lionel Moe Band on May 7.
• Daily Herald staff writers Russell Lissau and Katlyn Smith contributed to this report.