Outdoor dining has been a lifeline for restaurants during the pandemic, as it’s universally considered safer than indoor dining. Besides, restaurants are only allowed to fill up to 50% capacity indoors in Pennsylvania at the moment.
Now cold weather is here, so this gets a bit tricky.
To prolong the outdoor dining season, many local restaurants are investing in the ubiquitous tall, lantern-like space heaters to keep diners safe and warm outside.
“The heaters are plenty warm, but given that they’re stationary and in the open air (i.e., Pittsburgh weather), it’s not possible to guarantee any sort of even distribution of heat,” says Adam Henry of Hidden Harbor and The Independent Brewing Company in Squirrel Hill. “Still, we think they’re a good solution, all things considered.”
Nobody really knows how this is going to work as the temperatures drop.
“We’ll see!” says Henry. “It will depend not only on the weather itself but also guests’ willingness to layer up and endure imperfect conditions. The next few weeks will be revealing. I don’t think open-air dining in November and December will be for everyone, but it’s critical for our industry that guests support it if we want restaurants — especially ones that have opted not to open for indoor dining out of well-founded safety concerns — to survive.”
Fire pits are another warming option.
“Currently we have heaters and fire pits outside,” says Scott Shaffer, managing partner of Bridges & Bourbon, Downtown. “So far, we are still seeing a willingness and sometimes a desire from guests to sit outside even as the temps drop.”
Some restaurants have set up tents and partial outdoor enclosures to keep out the cold wind. A few have taken an even more unusual step, and ordered transparent, heated geodesic igloos.
“We have purchased enclosures that are geodesic domes that have a clear plastic sheeting over them for the winter months,” says Shaffer. “These igloos are coming from a company called Gardenigloo USA. They will enable us to seat up to eight guests in each of the igloos. Each igloo will seat only the party that reserved the igloo.”
“We are going to be featuring the igloos at täkō, Butcher and the Rye, Meat & Potatoes, and Poulet Bleu for now,” says Anne Gano of the Richard DeShantz Restaurant Group. “Each igloo is going to be fully decorated and will be able to accommodate larger parties. We are planning to add an Alexa to each one so guests can customize their music selection.
Their goal is to enhance the guest experience. “Imagine being in a cozy, personal space with your friends or family having a great meal at any of our locations while watching the snow fall around you. It’s going to be awesome.”
DiAnoia’s Eatery has an outdoor space enclosed with curtains, and is offering fuzzy polyester blankets to keep its customers snug and warm. For $4, they can take one home.
Here are 11 more Pittsburgh restaurants offering heated outdoor dining (there are many, many more). Feel free to add your own favorites in the comments.
The Porch, Oakland
The Porch is designed around its outdoor porch, set in Schenley Plaza with panoramic views of the Cathedral of Learning and the Carnegie Library. They have a fireplace and several space heaters.
Mad Mex, Shadyside
This Pittsburgh Cali-Mex stalwart has eight tables outside, four that seat two patrons and four that seat four. There’s a heater at each table, and one overhead on the awning.
The Urban Tap, Shadyside
This modern, beer-centric gastropub has eight tables outside on the sidewalk along busy South Highland Street. Four of the tables have heaters nearby.
Spirit, the music venue and top-notch pizza place, has a giant covered tent with several heaters on its back patio. It’s big enough that the tables are appropriately socially distanced, and it’s enlivened by hanging plants and strings of tiny lights dangling from the roof.
Fig & Ash, North Side
This new modern American restaurant in Deutschtown has a side patio covered by several tents with curtains around them. Several fire pits provide warmth.
Bloomfield’s modern Italian-influenced restaurant Station has several white folding tents out on the street in front, with roaring fire pits for warmth.
North Park Lounge, McCandless
Eight little greenhouses dot the front of North Park Lounge so diners are protected from the elements while enjoying the stars. They’re 48 square feet polycarbonate, steel and aluminum, with twinkling lights set up in the rafters. They’ve also got several tents.
This Mediterranean kitchen and wine bar in Shadyside has always had its signature semi-enclosed patio in the front. Now the large space is able to have tables six feet apart with lots of heaters.
Kaya, Strip District
Outdoor dining wraps around the exterior of Kaya, the beloved pan-Caribbean restaurant in the Strip. There are heating towers for 10 tables.
The Lot at Edgewater, Oakmont
With a covered patio that seats 100 people, this new spot for steak and seafood in Oakmont has a huge number of heaters — 13 hanging from the ceiling, and four movable propane towers, so it gets pretty warm. They’re open for breakfast, too.
Atria’s, Mt. Lebanon
The original Atria’s (there are several) dates back to the 1930s, so it has has weathered Pittsburgh’s changing tastes pretty well. It has an outdoor patio patio with six tables and three space heaters.
Spoonwood Brewing Co., Bethel Park
This brewery is also known for its creative and unusual menu of wood-fired pizzas. It has a vast outdoor beer garden with 12 tables, that is going to be covered with a giant custom-made tent this month. “Two large thermostatically controlled heaters that will let us get up to 70 degrees, even if it’s 20 degrees out,” says Mary Lou Scorsone, Spoonwood’s business manager.