Alison Garwood Jones

Outdoor dining in Winter

August 22, 2020

Muskoka chairs in winter?

Steve Behal’s apres-ski routine. Photo: Jeannie Catchpole

Why not? Then add some portable fire pits, picnic tables, and a team of servers in tuques and goose-down jackets. 

Ski resorts, mountaintop bars, carnivals, and private Muskoka cottages have all figured out the logistics of outdoor dining in winter. We’re Canadians, for gosh sakes. 

Has any friend in your apres-ski pod ever said, “I’m not going outside with my beer and club sandwich! What if I catch a cold or hypothermia?” No!

Instead they contracted rosy cheeks, a nice beer buzz, and a sense of camaraderie. And they dressed for it. 

All that’s left to make this work in cities, as winter approaches, are pedestrian-only streets to accommodate our pandemic-weary selves. Our favourite local restaurants deserve some fast thinking.

Like so many things during Covid, the proposal to make Toronto’s main streets European-style pedestrian hubs has gone from pie-in-the-sky to how do we make this work in the next 8-12 weeks?

Prediction: I see an uptick in sales of snowsuits IF the city of Toronto embraces our current need for “open streets,” a concept Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam has been studying since 2012. Her powerful essay on open streets and spatial equity appears in the September issue of Toronto Life. Check it out!

Personally, I’d love to see “open streets” happen in my hood. The challenge: Roncesvalles Ave. is a major artery on the East/West streetcar line. And while extending patios across the sidewalks worked this summer — meaning you felt the breeze of passing red rockets as you dined on your cashew chicken — there are snowbanks to contend with during the winter. From a social distancing standpoint, nothing short of moving the whole line up of restaurants into the street would work.

I leave it to the experts to figure out the logistics of shorturning streetcars and adding buses, or opening up laneways to deliveries. Car traffic will still not be at pre-pandemic levels this winter, so those hellbent on accommodating cars first don’t even have two legs to stand on.

What matters most is the science: when it comes to Covid, exercise, dining and schooling are safer when conducted outdoors. Let’s figure it out.


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