Patio season starts to wind down this time of year, but for many restaurants, outdoor dining is their only hope of survival amid the pandemic.
Expanded outdoor dining – be it a small parklet or full-blown "streatery" has been a godsend for the industry during the summer.
But as cooler weather arrives, restaurants must once again adjust as they prepare to fight on two fronts – not only against the pandemic but old man winter as well.
D.C.'s Cuba Libre Restaurant and Rum Bar is one such establishment. It is among four restaurants making up the District's newest streatery: Downtown D.C. Dine Out on 8th Street.
"We were closed basically for four months without doing anything," said Guillermo Pernot, the corporate chef-partner of D.C.'s Cuba Libre restaurants.
Now, the rum bar is part of the multi-restaurant pop-up, run by the Downtown D.C. Business Improvement District (BID).
The goal is to bring in more foot traffic and revenue to an area that saw business drop by an estimated 88% in July.
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"We are hoping that folks will come down," Neil Albert, the BID’s president and CEO said. "We truly want to make this a destination and downtown D.C. really needs the support."
The streatery is located along 8th Street between H and K streets with enough capacity to fit 300 diners safely. Socially distanced tables are covered by tents protecting diners from the elements.
Chef Guillermo Pernot hopes the safety measures will be enough to make customers comfortable because there’s plenty at stake.
"Everybody is going to benefit. From the purveyors, to the people that work, the taxes we collect, everybody benefits," he said.
Indoor dining remains a risk, however, and some customers just aren’t comfortable with it.
But winterizing a restaurant comes at a cost, so the D.C. government is stepping in by providing $6,000 grants to eligible restaurants.
"Restaurants are stuck with having to figure out how to continue and we wanted to do our part in ensuring we provide some type of relief for our restauranteurs as we go into the winter months," Deputy Mayor of Planning and Economic Development John Falciccio said.
For downtown residents like Stephanie Marshall, a little cold weather is nothing when you’ve got a hot meal and the heartwarming feeling of helping out your neighbor.
"I think people want to support the restaurants, support the retailers in the community," she said. "This time that means going out and eating outdoors maybe being a little chilly but enjoying it as well."
The District's downtown streatery will run for the five weekends starting Friday, Sept. 25. How well things go could determine whether we see even more streateries as we get to the heart of the winter months.
Dine Out on 8th Street is set to be open Fridays 5-10 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays noon to 10 p.m.
Masks are required. Tables are capped at six patrons.