As the temps drop, suburban restaurants adapt outdoor dining options
When the COVID-19 pandemic forced bars and restaurants throughout Illinois to shut down their indoor service last year, Bien Trucha in Geneva got creative. The Mexican restaurant expanded its patio in the summer and then built pods where groups could eat while protected from the elements throughout the winter.
"They worked out great," Bien Trucha Group chief business officer Julio Cano said. "We adapted as much as we could to make them cozy with lighting, covers from our linen company that the guests could have if they wanted them, and sound systems."
While the restaurant had initially planned on taking the pods down during the summer, they wound up just opening up the doors and windows to make them more comfortable during the warmer months.
"It helps to shelter from the rain, and people like them," Cano said. "There's still a lot of people that don't feel that comfortable (with the pandemic), so they like their own space."
The tables, for up to eight people, can book a week in advance on weekends, though they're usually available the same day on weeknights.
Bien Trucha is at 410 W. State St., Geneva, bientrucha.com/. Call (630) 232-2665 for reservations.
Even if you can't get a spot there, you can check out some of these other suburban venues providing novel spaces to dine and drink outside as the temperatures plunge.
The six dining huts the restaurant owners assembled last year are currently decked out for Halloween, with themes including "crime scene" and Hansel & Gretel. Customers are encouraged to fill out a ballot to vote for their favorite theme. There's no fee or minimum needed to reserve one, and you'll have the spot for 90 minutes or until close if you come for the last seating.
"It's been a hit," co-owner Gary Taylor said.
Servers deliver food through a sliding window to avoid contact, and the huts are aired out and disinfected between visits. The insulated spaces stay a cozy 75 degrees, even when the outside temperature drops to 30 degrees, so you might want to dress in layers. When winter truly arrives, the owners plan to change up the decoration scheme with themes like ski shack and "Frozen" and erect an ice-skating rink between the huts. The inside space is getting into the festive spirit, too. It's currently filled with ghosts and goblins and will be packed with props from "A Christmas Story" for the holidays.
The Assembly American Bar & Cafe is at 2570 Hassell Road, Hoffman Estates, assembly-bar.com/. To make reservations, call (847) 843-3993.
The Drake Oak Brook
Starting Friday, Nov. 5, the hotel will offer six private and enclosed igloos on the patio that can seat up to six people between 11 a.m. and 8 p.m. You'll get the igloo, which will be decorated based on a theme, for 2.5 hours. A small heater will be provided, but bundling up and bringing your own blanket is recommended for when the temperatures drop. If you're coming for dinner, there's a minimum required of $250 Sundays through Wednesdays and $300 Thursdays through Saturdays. A 20% service fee will be added.
When The Drake isn't hosting banquet events, you can also get a seat at one of two patios near its fountain.
Last fall, Chatterbox owner Mike Okun created Camp Find-A-Way, which featured five heated and equipped RVs for customers to dine inside. The RVs will reopen around Nov. 15.
- John Starks | Staff Photographer, 2020
The camper rentals Chatterbox in Long Grove offered last year proved so popular that the restaurant is considering creating a type of membership to allow diners access all season long. The five campers -- one seats 10 and the others can comfortably accommodate eight -- are heated and equipped with HEPA and UV filters, a TV and an Amazon Alexa device so you'll be safe, comfortable and entertained. When you arrive, you'll receive the camp rules, a bottle of hand sanitizer and a walkie talkie you can use to call servers to bring food and drinks. Everything will arrive in to-go containers to minimize contact. The campsite will open around Nov. 15.
Chatterbox is at 330 Old McHenry Road, Long Grove, chatterboxlonggrove.com/. To make reservations, call (847) 602-2169.