From left, Larney Staton and Phyllis Staton, both of California, laugh as they dine in an al fresco bubble at My Brother’s Bar with their daughter Allison Dopler and husband Joe Dopler (not pictured) on Friday, October 23 (Rachel Woolf), Dedicated to the Denver Post)

On Sunday morning when the temperature was below 15 degrees and snow was falling, I nearly reached the end of my relationship by insisting that we drive around town for coffee and pastries, outside of a restaurant but in a plastic greenhouse.

Days after this experience left us fed up and in surprisingly good spirits, I’m here to tell you that outdoor winter dining, if done right, can warm even your partner’s cold heart. That it is worth experiencing for yourself.

And it could save us all in the coming season from becoming more isolated and depressed and finding ourselves alone and abandoned in a blizzard outside a restaurant.

At Annette, Aurora, 12 small polycarbonate structures are some of the first outdoor dining rooms to appear in the Denver area. They are furnished with carpets and woolen blankets (washed between uses), oscillating space heaters, QR code menus and convenient server call buttons attached to lights (like on an airplane).

With the buzzing space heaters and blankets thrown over our legs, a hot French press, and the warm pastries (kolaches, bomboloni) on the table, the food, surrounded by snow and boneless temperatures, was wonderful.

Every now and then, while we ate, a soft dust floated around me (but somehow not on my date), and even that was like sitting in the Christmas window of a department store or in Santa’s workshop. In the middle of our brunch, the party next to us came out of their greenhouse laughing and a little drunk. They asked the manager for a group photo.

Christine Courtney scans a QR code in a greenhouse in Annette, Aurora on Saturday October 24th. (Rachel Ellis, The Denver Post)

Last weekend was the first test of winter weather for restaurants with doors near personal seating. The dining rooms were then reopened to a capacity of 50% and the terraces were able to regain part of this loss of income, but were weather-dependent throughout the summer. This latest solution cost Annette around $ 11,000 and a full day of greenhouse building with the help of 25 volunteers, but “It’s been amazing so far,” said owner Caroline Glover.

“Not only has it increased our seating capacity,” she said, “it also gives people a chance to go out and gain experience.”

The greenhouses are just the beginning of the experience. At Annette’s, Glover and her team are waiting for a yurt that they decorate and place for family meals or small company celebrations on vacation. At My Brother’s Bar in Denver, owner Danny Newman and his team have set up a number of igloo-like dining domes – some with tables, others with couches, chairs, and electric fireplaces, like an outdoor living room.

“Domes, greenhouses, tents, in the end we did all of that,” Newman said. “The domes make it feel much fancier than it is. I think people are both surprised at the prices and what kind of food they get “from My Brother’s Bar.

While the 147-year-old company is busy balancing its old and new image, Uptowns Beast + Bottle is making sure a new “greenhouse village” fits in seamlessly with the restaurant, including private music playlists. Cherry Creek’s Barolo Grill is about to install upscale outdoor dining pods around the courtyard fire pits. And Black Cat’s farm dinners outside of Boulder are already being served in private “cabanas” with wood-burning stoves and views of silos and chickens.

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A wood stove and a view of the farm at Black Cat in Boulder. (Doug Brown, provided by Black Cat Farm)

“The feeling of (eating outside) is something we enjoy,” said Allison Anderson, manager of Beckon and Call restaurants in Denver. “We can give you this truly unique, hopefully once-in-a-lifetime, winter experience in our restaurant and encourage people to come out with that one person … and appreciate what we can do now.”

Anderson and her team in the neighboring restaurants on Larimer Street are working on a combination of a winterized tent restaurant and individual greenhouses, which will debut on November 4th. Multi-course meals and meals for special occasions are served in these individual structures.

“What I see is people just want to be cared for and feel like they are dining in an environment where their health and pleasure are always considered,” said Anderson. “This is such an important time for people to be together and that they come and choose to spend the night with us. I think this is so important.”

It’s also important that Anderson emphasize the need for hospitality amid a pandemic and economic recession. Their industry has been hit hard as restaurants keep in business only by constantly changing their offerings and formats, as they do now to survive the winter.

“You’re just not sure anymore,” said Anderson. “Will restaurants survive? Can i do what i did? “

A representation of the new outdoor courtyard, which is coming to the Barolo Grill in November, with individual eating capsules made of aluminum and Plexiglas. (Provided by Barolo Grill)

As of this week, the indoor capacity of restaurants in Denver County with a maximum of 50 guests has been reduced to 25%.

According to the Colorado Restaurant Association, half of the state’s restaurants say they could still close for the next six months if they continued to operate at 50% indoor capacity. These restaurant owners say they need 75% of their seats to “have any chance of medium-term survival,” reports the CRA. And 60% of them use winter terraces if they are able to.

“If capacity were to be further restricted or if there was another indoor shutdown, we would hope that outdoor dining will still be allowed,” said Sonia Riggs, CEO of the Restaurant Association, ahead of Tuesday’s announcement of the new 25% limit . “Restaurants have told us they need two things to survive: cash and capacity.”

Last week, the CRA and the state of Colorado hosted a winter outdoor design workshop that was attended by architects, engineers, contractors, and other stakeholders. They also announced a scholarship program, up to $ 750,000 in donation from Xcel Energy to help restaurants winterize their patios. Potential drafts and more information on grants will be available on November 1st, according to the CRA. Riggs said she expected the program to help “a sizable pool of restaurants.”

“We hope it will help some (survive the winter) but we know it is not enough,” she added.

Even after investing in these resources, restaurants like Annette and My Brother’s Bar are still struggling with public perceptions about safety. Glover said she already sees concerns about enclosed outdoor areas, even if they are literally redeveloped bubbles.

My brother’s bar was closed on Monday not because of COVID-19 concerns, but because the outside temperature was too cold for the staff. Newman said he was waiting for even more weather protection to keep his employees safe. But as far as customers are concerned, the domes are “nice and toasted” (even with exhaust fans and ventilation between the parties).

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“This is our most important question,” said Glover of the cleaning process, explaining to customers that Annette offers time slots for her greenhouse reservations with built-in space for disinfection. “We go in with a (sprayer) full of disinfectant and spray every single surface,” she explained, “and let it dry with the roofs and doors open.”

She hopes all of these hurdles – disinfection, money spent, relationships tested – will pay off in the end.

“So many people who have eaten in these (greenhouses) haven’t been outside since March,” she said of the first reaction she heard from customers. “In addition, families can feel more comfortable if they bring their young children with them…. This allows them to be in their own little house while also having the option of not eating out of a to-go box. “

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