Charlie's, 7427 Roosevelt Rd., will serve customers in an outdoor heated and ventilated bubble, similar to the one pictured here. If all goes well, the restaurant may order more. | Photo courtesy of Gardenigloo.com

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With colder weather coming, restaurants and bars that have relied on outdoor seating to accommodate customers during COVID-19 capacity restrictions are worried about what the winter will bring. Some establishments don’t plan to invest in outdoor tents or heaters, which can be costly, and places that haven’t used them before have no guarantee that they’ll work well into the winter. But creative solutions are springing up.

Charlie’s, 7427 Roosevelt Rd., is planning arguably the most unique local solution to outdoor dining in the cold: a clear plastic “bubble” that fits a table for up to 10 customers. Termed “igloos” and “quarantine bubbles” by food reporters, these bubbles have ventilation and, said Maria Philippou, daughter of owner Charlie Philippou, will be completely sanitized between uses.

Philippou said Charlie’s will start with one, which should arrive by early October. If it’s successful, they might order more. Reservations will be required. Philippou said the bubbles are fairly expensive “and a pain to assemble.” Philippou knows, because she has one at her home, and she said it’s magical to sit inside one when it’s snowing outside.

A poll she did on Facebook overwhelmingly showed people in support of the restaurant getting one, and Philippou said she’s planning different seasonal themes for the bubble, decorating it for Halloween and using lights for the winter holidays.

“We wanted to do it last year, before COVID,” said Philippou, but the restaurant had recently reopened and there wasn’t time to get it organized.

Tim Shanahan, owner of Shanahan’s, 7535 Madison St., has outdoor seating on Madison Street during the summer months. He said, however, that he’s not planning on purchasing tents or heaters to keep outside dining going once the weather stops cooperating. They’re expensive, Shanahan said, and once you enclose people in a tent, they’d have the same COVID transmission concerns as they would inside.

Shanahan said he’ll be opening up the back room of the restaurant, which will provide space for four more properly distanced tables. And the restaurant will continue its carry-out service and the dine-in it has been providing.

But in anticipation of more indoor dining, he said the restaurant has been doing extra sanitization work, including checking the filters, heating and vents to make sure the air is as clean as possible. He’s hired a new sanitization company to make sure the building is being regularly cleaned even more thoroughly than previously. And, of course, the restaurant will continue to abide by social distancing guidelines from the CDC, Shanahan said.

Marty Sorice, owner of several bars and restaurants in town, said he’s looking into both tents and heating for outside seating. He’s thinking of a tent for the outdoor patio at Carole’s, 7307 Roosevelt Rd., and heaters might provide longer outdoor options for Blueberry Hill, Angelo’s and Pioneer.

Without a tent, he acknowledged, heaters have limited capability to make a difference.

“This winter is going to be very challenging in terms of survival,” said Sorice. Opening up outdoors helped substantially during the spring and summer, and Sorice attributes much of that success to the village administration, which, he said, worked quickly to get outdoor venues approved for Forest Park bars and restaurants.

“Forest Park moved quicker and with much less red tape than the several other towns we operate in,” Sorice said.

Director of Public Health and Safety Steve Glinke, who oversees zoning for the town, said each request for supplemental dining space will be evaluated on a case by case basis. Some changes may require code amendments, such as extending the dates for outdoor dining, which would be voted on by the village council. Establishments “who have the footprint to accommodate additional outdoor space will be evaluated by existing local codes.”