Future of outdoor dining in Milwaukee in question as winter nears

The future for bars and restaurants relying on outdoor dining amid the COVID-19 pandemic is as uncertain as the coming winter. 

The crisp fall air and sunshine on Sunday, Oct. 4 was a refreshing reprieve from the dreary weather of the past few days.

Club Charlie's

At Club Charlies in Milwaukee's Historic Third Ward, business continued despite its locked front door -- in large part because of the bar and restaurant's use of a partially closed road for seating. But winter is right around the corner.

"I'm hoping that they have a plan of action in place for small businesses to be able to access outside places to be as safe as possible," said Liz Hagedorn, Club Charlies General Manager.

Liz Hagedorn

Liz Hagedorn

While some businesses have approved plans to allow 100% occupancy, Hagedorn said it is not in the cards for her small indoor space. Instead, it will soon allow only a fraction of normal capacity.

"What I'm trying to do is listen to my staff and really see what they need to make them feel comfortable," Hagedorn said.

Outdoor dining in Milwaukee

Outdoor dining in Milwaukee

On Thursday, the city of Milwaukee announced a second round of first-come, first-served grants for small businesses to cover rent, utilities, and winterizing outdoor spaces.

"I don't want to see businesses going out of business," said Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett. "And I know that there's been tremendous, tremendous economic hardship. So we're trying to do our part in keeping these businesses alive."

Outdoor dining in Milwaukee

Outdoor dining in Milwaukee

Still, there has been no defined plan yet from the city on how or if street closures or bump-out seating from Bay View to Brady Street and beyond will be allowed to continue.

"I think it's very concerning about what will happen to the culture of Milwaukee," Hagedorn said.

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Outdoor dining in Milwaukee

Outdoor dining in Milwaukee

Hagedorn said the outdoor dining through the active streets program has been a lifeline for bars and restaurants across the city. She is concerned about how many local haunts might be left when the spring thaw eventually comes. 

As for the future of outdoor dining in Milwaukee -- the Department of Public Works tells FOX6 News guidelines are being drafted to balance public health, traffic, and snow removal needs. A proposal could go to committee later this month.

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