Pivoting in Philly: Greenhouses, Igloos and Outdoor Dining

Igloos have popped-up poolside at Germantown Garden Grill, which was previously Vesper Dayclub and pool from Glu Hospitality. (Germantown Garden Grill igloos)

Outdoor dining is still having a record moment during the most challenging of years, and Philadelphia restaurants are getting creative to survive during COVID-19.

For example, heated individual greenhouses took over a Center City street outside Harper's Garden in Philly. And over in Northern Liberties, plastic igloos that seat two or more are available poolside at the former Vesper Dayclub – a summer-only destination that’s pivoted to become Germantown Garden Grill, a year-round steakhouse by Glu Hospitality. In Bucks County, Parx Casino has reopened Liberty Bell Beer Garden, an outdoor spot in the suburbs that switches from an indoor space to an outdoor space, as a glass roof retracts and walls pull back.

For Philadelphia restaurants, outdoor dining and innovation are both crucial, as Philadelphia issued new COVID-19 restrictions on Nov. 16, citing that indoor dining is prohibited. Takeout, delivery and outdoor dining may continue with additional restrictions. And restaurants offering outdoor dining must reduce table sizes to four people. Guidance will make it clear that groups dining outdoors should be household members only, because mixing different households promotes community-wide spread.

With these new restrictions and with safety a priority, here are just some of the ways hospitality operators in the Delaware Valley are getting creative, as the global pandemic and cold weather threaten the entire food, drink and tourism industry.

Private Greenhouses
Avram Hornik, owner of
FCM Hospitality, which operates Harper’s Garden, said they have at least 10 greenhouse dining rooms that feature a door, glass walls, tables and chairs, decor, twinkling lights and heat on the cold days. The private greenhouses are available in two sizes and can be booked for no additional fee on a first-come basis.

Harper’s Garden and FCM Hospitality
The greenhouses at Harper's Garden in Philly. Photo: Courtesy of FCM Hospitality.

"Restaurants are fighting for their very survival right now,” said Hornik, “and we have worked with our teams for months to find safe, healthy and socially-distanced ways to continue to offer outdoor dining experiences for our community. We have taken inspiration from our open-air veranda and created a new way to enjoy a full, outdoor dining experience that literally puts you inside your very own dining room, where you can enjoy the stars shining overhead. Health and safety is at the forefront of our minds in everything we have done this year.”

Hornik added, "We couldn't operate outdoor dining in these cases for our tables and venues that didn't have a covering. If any scheduled shifts are cancelled due to weather, employees – including tipped employees – are compensated an hourly rate. However, this means a loss of revenue and a challenge in terms of any restaurant's survival with a reliance on outdoor dining. Navigating the pandemic, as a whole, while keeping the priority of our employees and guests, has been challenging."

Igloos and Ghost Kitchens
Glu Hospitality in Philadelphia was known for nightlife concepts prior to COVID 19 – and during COVID, it turned its entire business model from top to bottom, turning away from closed bars and nightlife concepts to transforming spaces into food-focused, safe and socially-distanced dining models. Glu turned its Vesper Dayclub and pool into Germantown Garden Grill. Igloos popped-up poolside with plants, heat lamps and décor. They started with small-sized igloos at 10x10 and 12x12, and they’ve since opened a second deck that oversees the entire neighborhood. Prior to the new restrictions in Philly, they could also accommodate larger group sizes – all in accordance with guidelines set by the city and the state.

Germantown Garden Grill
The igloos at Germantown Garden Grill. Photo: Courtesy of Glu Hospitality.

Inside the igloos, customers can order fare from the steak-house menu, but also from two innovative ghost kitchens that they recently launched: Hunnies Crispy Chicken and Tiny's Burger Joint. Both ghost kitchens are in full swing with active delivery on platforms like GrubHub.

Shape-Shifting Beer Garden
Parx Casino in Bucks County provides one of the largest outdoor spaces, and their
Liberty Bell Beer Garden was transformed from a closed indoor structure to an outdoor beer garden with glass ceiling panels and the side walls that retract during the nice days. The beer garden was also transformed into an outdoor space for Eagles games-watching this season. The 7,600-square-foot space features socially distanced tables and is adjacent to two patios, featuring greenery, modern furniture and 10-foot long fire pits.

These are just a few of the Philadelphia area restaurants that have pivoted during COVID-19, offering innovative, outdoor social-distanced seating.