Chicago, IL -
The ongoing pandemic has delivered yet another blow right in the heart of Andersonville and the soul of the LGBTQ community.Replay Andersonville
announced today that is temporarily closing on January 4th – “until something changes in the state's rules governing restaurants (and) we are able to get support from the new federal program being rolled out, or when the weather warms up,” said Replay owner Mark Liberson.
“It is becoming increasingly difficult to keep our guests comfortable given the current restrictions on restaurant dining and temperatures falling into the 30s and below. While (so many) people have been supportive and we have been able to keep people happy so far, we know that it soon will be too cold to seat people outside or to serve with the windows open.”
Liberson, the owner of multiple bars and restaurants in Andersonville and Lakeview, said 2020 has been “the most challenging year of my professional life.” After all, his businesses were all shut down in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Sure, Replay Andersonville was open late last spring for carry-out and delivery, and it did reopen in June. But with winter now here and strict restaurant/bar restrictions, the business cannot survive.
“It's painful to see so many employees in our company and in our industry lose their jobs,” Liberson said. “The lack of national leadership to address the spread of the virus has really impacted our businesses negatively and I blame the failure to bring the states together in a collaborative effort to control the spread of this virus and the politicization of mask-wearing (and more) for the infection rate and deaths we are experiencing nationwide right now.”
Liberson said he is trying to remain as positive and optimistic as possible, and the key for that is to accept what you cannot control and then focus your energy where you can impact with your actions, he said.
Over the summer, for instance, Liberson and Co. addressed the need for social distancing and indoor service restrictions by looking for opportunities to expand their seating outdoors to make up for the loss of occupancy indoors, including working with their neighbor Gerber Auto Body on Halsted to expand Replay Lakeview
onto their parking lot and with the City of Chicago to expand Replay Andersonville onto Balmoral.
“I came up with the idea to create a duct that would run to each table in a tented area and provide forced fresh air heat to keep guests more comfortable, similar to what we do in our businesses' HVAC systems,” he said. “We installed pergolas at both Replay Lakeview and Andersonville with overhead radiant heat, added propane heaters next to outdoor tables that aren't covered, as well as space heaters for tables that are at open windows inside Replay Lakeview and Replay Andersonville where the heat alone wasn't making up for the chill from open windows.”
Both Replay locations have gone over-the-top with holiday décor, “with the goal of creating spaces that lend themselves to enjoying the chill, just like we would normally enjoy when going to the outdoor holiday markets in the city in prior years,” Liberson said.
At Replay Andersonville, Khloe's Ski Lodge was launched, based on one of Hydrate's entertainers who is now working with the team in Andersonville. Replay Lakeview built upon last year's Donner & Dasher's Ski Bar – and they offer Crispy Chicks, a spin-off of DS Tequila and Fajita Factory, serving chicken to their guests.
“Our team continues to focus on hospitality and comfort for guests, and it has been rewarding hearing how this has been appreciated,” said Liberson who sadly added that the low point for his businesses, believe it or not, is still to come, depending on the actions of the federal government over the next week.
Replay Andersonville will be closed for the first two weeks of January, and then Liberson and his team will make decisions day by day. “If we can return to serving people inside, we would reopen Replay Andersonville, as well as Hydrate, and maybe even Elixir, depending upon the percentage of our occupancy we can seat,” he said.
“We have received no support or even delay in paying rent in our Replay Andersonville location, and already have lost over $15,000 in November and are expecting to lose more in December, which is not sustainable. Rather than putting our remaining team out of work, my hope is the government recognizes how large a sector of the economy is made up of hospitality venues and how many people will be forced into unemployment, as well as how many small business owners will lose their investments, if they do not step up and support our industry now with this new program and ensure that it is adequately funded so that everyone who applies and qualifies can receive this support.
“At the outset we tried to help support our staff by paying them additional wages and giving out gift cards to help them cover their expenses when we first shutdown. We followed up with fundraising, including at Hydrate where we created a virtual dance party, the Quarankiki, that at the height of the shutdown attracted thousands of people from around the world to join us each Saturday night. We were able to help artists and staff out of work with nearly $100,000 raised across our venues. In addition, once we reopened, we did fundraisers in our venues and contributed over $5,000 to support the NAACP, Molasses Chicago and Transtech Social Enterprises.”
Both Replay locations are now doing a food drive in conjunction with the Black Drag Council to support the Lakeview Pantry.
“The lack of consistency in this country is very frustrating, including seeing dance parties occurring in other cities while Hydrate sits closed, and Replay only being able to seat people where tables are next to open windows or outside while other states are almost at full occupancy,” Liberson said. “There are private parties occurring in our city and state where no rules are being followed to keep people safe, which is why I think we would all be better off to allow restaurants and bars to do what we know how to do, including creating social distancing, enforcing mask policies, providing air purification, and creating a safer alternative to home parties for those who would like to eat or drink with their family or friends.”
Liberson said his locations are prepared to keep staff and guests safe after installing UV/Ionization Air Purification systems in all HVAC units and then supplementing that with medical-grade free-standing air purifiers in every room.
“Our hope is that as the infection rate in Illinois continues to fall that the governor will eventually allow us to resume operations,” Liberson said. “I'm looking forward to the spring when we can start to see a reduction of infections being supported by increased immunity in our community from the vaccination program now underway. My hope is that we will see a return to normal begin to emerge, and we cannot wait to welcome people back to our venues and eventually Hydrate's dance floor.”