Adventurous Outdoor Dining Spots Across the U.S. to Warm Your Next Vacation
It doesn’t have to feel like an Everest basecamp, even if it looks like one.
Heading into year three of the pandemic might be leaving you a little tired, what with new coronavirus variants seeming to pop up every few months (oh hey, stealth Omicron) along with traveling, mask, and dinning regulations. On top of trying to keep track of all the latest travel rules and restrictions, once you arrive at your destination, the question still remains: eat in, eat out, eat out while inside, or eat out outside? It’s like a math puzzle we were never very good at to begin with.
Not to mention being in the thick of winter and over the feeling of dining at basecamp in our fur parkas at the foot of Everest.
Enter the quirky outdoor dining solution: places that are outside, yet warm enough to feel like inside, but private enough to feel safe to share a meal. Places where we don’t have to poorly compute as many risk calculations. But not all shoddily hammered-together platforms are equal. Some are pulling out the big guns, the stash of heaters, and fire pits, even.
From gondolas in Colorado to igloos in Omaha and ice shanties in Wisconsin, there are some creative dinning spots across the country giving us the will to keep at it, and dare we say actually enjoy it. Hell, maybe even go out of our way to eat there or include the restaurants in our determined winter trips—sometimes even despite sub zero temps, which is pretty damn impressive. Here are places across the US rocking the outdoor dining trend this winter so you can feel adventurous but still safe.
Dine in a ski lift gondola in Colorado
Colorado ski towns embrace outdoor dining to its fullest. In Telluride you can have dinner and drinks in one of the refurbished gondolas in the ski village. The cars are heated and lit up from inside. The cushioned seats are covered in black leather and up to eight people can dine at the wooden table. Food and drinks from 12 restaurants in the plaza can be ordered and delivered directly to your gondola. There are also yurts and a pavilion available to switch things up even more.
Denver is also embracing the outdoor dining scene with places like Stanley Beer Hall opening up four season patios. The 3,000-square-foot covered patio in Aurora’s hot, newish Stanley Marketplace is adorned with bistro lights and garage-door-style windows that keep inclement weather out while allowing fresh air in on sunny days. The patio is also dog friendly and has a pour-your-own tap wall, plus five TVs showing the day’s top games.
Some of the best views in the Mile High City can be found at The Red Barber of the Catbird hotel in the RiNo Art District. The rooftop bar has 360-degree views from its clear tent that, thanks to some heaters, keeps you toasty even when the snow is falling. Once you’re warm, head on to the uncovered portion of the roof for lawn games and fire pits.
Eat fish without the fishing in ice shanties in Wisconsin
For a true Wisconsin ice fishing experience—minus the actual lake or license—head to the ice shanties at Buckatabon Tavern & Supper Club in Wauwatosa. The restaurant’s dog-friendly shacks cost $100 (which includes a free drink) for up to 10 people for a 90-minute session in the heated wood sheds. Rest assured the shacks are much cuter—and more stable—versions of what you would find out on the ice.
Milwaukee’s Twisted Fisherman restaurant also offers an outdoor shanty experience, but for the more brave of heart. Designed for a few hours of boozing with friends at $40 per hour, sessions take place in unheated container-converted shanties. They call it the Ice Camp. Each space does come with a gas-lit fire pit, so you won’t be totally left to freeze. The restaurant, which focuses on seafood, also has heated dome dining by the river, which can seat up to seven people for up to two hours. A $150 minimum spending per globe is required.
Also in Milwaukee, Kegal’s Inn is home to “party yurts” that are built to withstand 100 mph winds and 20 feet of snow! Set in the German restaurant’s outdoor “Brrr Garden,” where you’ll also find fire pits and heaters around outdoor tables, the three yurts stand 12-feet-high in the center and are built on wooden platforms. Composed of wooden lattice walls, which are wrapped in vinyl and an insulation barrier, they are very sturdy and keep you warm.
Enjoy views instead of chills on rooftops in New York
What New York City lacks in mountains and nature scapes, it makes up for in dazzling skylines. For stunning Lower Manhattan and East River views, head to the rooftop cabins at The Greens at Pier 17 in Seaport. The entire rooftop is designed to look like an alpine winter village with cute mountain sculptures, plenty of twinkling lights, andcustom-built, heated cabins with chalet-inspired decort. Reservations are required. The menu pairs comfort food (the Macaroni Gratin is fire) with seasonal cocktails, like a smokey Campfire old fashioned with a hint of orange or a Grand Marnier Manhattan with coffee beans.
In the East Village, The Standard hotel has an absolutely gorgeous Winter Garden where you can book heated alpine yurts for hot spiked chocolate and fondue. The yurts are super cozy and come with plenty of faux furs to keep you warm. They are open for bookings daily from 4pm to 9pm and for brunch on Saturday and Sunday from 11am to 3:30pm.
Chill out in igloos in Nebraska
In Omaha’s buzzy Capitol District you can book a private igloo set up in a winter wonderland landscape on the main plaza. Though there isn’t one particular restaurant associated with the igloos, numerous surrounding restaurants in the area participate by offering exclusive “igloo menus,” and the food and drinks are delivered right to your heated snow globe.
The igloos are divided into dining or lounge options. The lounge igloos feature, ahem, lounge chairs, as well as big screen TVs and different themes. One is focused on the Olympics, for instance, and guests can watch the 2022 Winter Games surrounded by memorabilia. Bring up to eight people to split that $150 cost (depending on the Thursday, Friday, or Saturday availability) for 1.5 hours.
Lounge on a beach… in snow… in Colorado
Colorado gets to appear more than once on this list, because the highest state is really good at winter. And of course leave it to Aspen to take outdoor dining to a whole new exclusive level. Opening over President’s Day Weekend, Snow Beach by ASPENX is a pop-up “club” on top of Aspen Mountain, offering beach-themed cabana rentals with chaise-lounges, bottle service, and multi-course food pairings in an alpine setting. But where it goes over the top is roping in photographer Gray Malin.
Each of the cabanas allow you to step into one of Malin’s photographs. Drawing inspiration from his iconic aerial beach and ski images, along with vintage style signature shots from decades past, Snow Beach celebrates the culture of après-ski and vintage glamor that Aspen Snowmass has cultivated throughout its 75-year history. It’s like dining in that immersive Van Goug experience, but with mountains behind it all.
During the pop-up’s six week run, there will be live DJ performances and champagne or rose pairings every thirty minutes with each course. There are a few different packages offered, including a single lounge chair with the purchase of a half a bottle of bubbles, a cabana for two with the purchase of a full bottle, or a cabana for six with three bottles. Prices range from $300 to $4,800 depending on bottle selection and group size.
Find out what a chocolate whisperer is at rooftop chalets in Illinois
Not to be outdone, Chicago offers up it’s skyline views framed by Lake Michigan via translucent chalets at Viceroy Chicago’s rooftop bar, Devereaux. Perched 18 floors above the city for unobstructed panoramics, the chalets are heated to 30 degrees warmer than the outside temperature (yes, it’s Chicago cold, but we’ll take it). They have romantic candlelight and twinkling fireplaces, plus faux fur throws to keep you warm.
Costs start at $130, but can climb to $900 depending on how much fun you want to add on, including bubbles, tasting and pairings, and the involvement of someone called a chocolate-whisperer. Soak up your 90 minutes on Fridays and Saturdays, or 120 minutes Sundays through Thursdays.
Have your lobster and beer in fish shacks in Maine
Batson River Brewing & Distilling has locations in three Maine cities, but you’ll want to head to the Kennebunkport establishment to sample craft beer and spirits in a private fish shack. Just a few steps from Dock Square, the restaurant has six custom shacks that are quite cozy. For just a small $25 reservation fee, each space can accommodate up to six people for 90 minutes at a time.
Batson River’s well-known craft beers selection and signature cocktails are updated seasonally. Choose from pints or beer flights to get the most out their creations, some with hints of pine or brewed with wildflower honey. Of course there are Lobster Rolls, as well as Poutine, Duck Fat Cornbread, and Bavarian pretzels that you get to dip in beer mustard.