Some Winnipeg patios are calling for customers to BYOB this winter: bring your own blanket.
The City of Winnipeg announced on Oct. 9 it will allow temporary patio registrations for November, to the end of March — allowing Winnipeggers to bundle up and enjoy a beverage outdoors at select restaurants and bars this winter.
So far, just one Winnipeg tap room has had its winter patio permit approved, but it’s already thinking of all the ways they can keep customers warm.
"We have an existing patio with picnic tables that are nailed down, but in the summer, we had expanded that area into our parking lot. So, we had temporary fencing and we had these big tents and umbrellas with tables and chairs," said Chantal Hogue, Little Brown Jug’s general manager. "We’re doing the exact same configuration for our winter patio, but instead of umbrellas we’re using propane heaters."
Hogue added she is hoping to add a windbreak barrier surrounding the patio, but the winter patio application has a height limit that she will follow. She said they may take some inspiration from Festival du Voyageur to add some cosy winter elements to the patio as well.
"I’d love to invite people to bring their own blankets. Maybe we can get some lovely hay bales people can sit on so they’re not sitting on a cold bench. We will see what we can do within those guidelines," she said.
Expanding the patio for the winter will also allow Little Brown Jug to sit more people throughout the day. Hogue said if they’re still required to operate at 50 per cent capacity, the winter patio extension will add two or three additional tables. If restrictions are lessened, she said they could have up to five extra tables for people to enjoy a pint of LBJ in the snow.
"We’re grateful for the opportunity to be able to get creative with how we can accommodate customers," she said. "I know that this time is difficult for every kind of business, so we’re glad to be able to have an option and we’re grateful we have the space to be able to expand and try to create a welcoming, safe environment for folks to enjoy a pint every now and then."
Hogue said customers have been supporting the local brewery throughout the coronavirus pandemic and she thinks a winter patio is perfect for people in this city.
"It sort of falls in our heritage of Winnipeggers to brave the outdoors and try and support a local business," said Hogue.
More local businesses have applied for a winter patio and are waiting to hear back from the city.
"It’s something that I’ve actually been thinking about even before the pandemic," said Mark Turner, owner of Amsterdam Tea Room and Bar.
"I’ve always kind of thought it would be nice to have a year-round patio. But I also knew it would be a long process making the application with the city. So, I think this is a perfect time to spearhead and start that process."
Turner said they already built a wood and plexiglass structure for their patio, which gives safe separation between all tables.
"The idea is to develop on that and build retractable awnings over each little booth that has been made," said Turner. "Even though the patio is open on the sides, it still provides a bit of protection from the wind and covering on top. The idea with the awnings was then to build heat lamps into the booths, which would have those electric heat lamp bars direct heat directly onto the table."
Turner is from Scotland where they have patios open for the full year. Because of the rain and sometimes "miserable weather," the patios in Scotland are weatherproofed and that’s where he got the idea for the retractable awnings with the specific electric heat lamps, he said.
He’s not expecting Winnipeggers to sit on the patio when it’s -40 C, but days that hover between -10 and -15 C, with no wind and the sun shining and the following evenings are when Turner thinks people would actually prefer to sit outside if they are dressed for the weather.
"For instance, when people go on skiing and snowboarding holidays and they got all their ski clothes on and after the day of skiing, they’ll go and sit at an outside mountain bar and have some food and some drinks. It feels like you’re almost on holiday."
If their winter patio permit gets approved, Turner said he will be able to more than double the number of seats available at the tearoom. With the current restrictions, he can only sit 17 to 18 people inside, but the patio would add 30 more seats.
The tearoom has just one heat lamp right now that covers two patio tables. Turner said the cost is hefty, but once they get approval from the city and look at their budget they will slowly chip away and hope the patio is fully winterized for next winter season.
Turner said he’s already seen people come prepared to sit outside in the cold and hopes more will this winter.
"We’re trying to get people around to the idea of bring your own blankets, so BYOB. Kind of like bringing a bottle but bringing your own blanket," he said with a laugh. "We’ve already had a bunch of regulars who will just come up with a bunch of blankets and just tuck in and have a nice time outside."
This winter you will also be able to enjoy a pint of beer outside at The Forks. The Common bar opened outdoors in 2019 and the area was licensed. However, the outdoor bar is closed for the winter.
"The space is licensed year-round and the public will be able to purchase food and beverages inside and bring it out to the space," said Clare MacKay, vice president of strategic initiatives at The Forks. "So yes, you can have a beer while you lace up your skates this winter."
The Forks also put in new fire pits this past May. MacKay said they were added to bring warmth to chilly nights in the fall and they plan to have them around for the winter months too for people to stay warm and enjoy a beverage outside.
Some local bars and restaurants are ready to embrace the cold this winter with their winter patios, and some hope this year will make them a new hot spot in the city for years to come.
"I think it’s going to take a year or two for people to get their head around this idea because we never really had winter patios in Winnipeg before. So, I think it’s going to take a little while to build momentum, but this year is a great start," said Turner.