Critic's Notebook

It’s Winter. Can We Talk About Seattle’s Weirdest Emerging Restaurant Trend?

Because brrrr.  

By Kathryn Robinson January 5, 2017

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The view at Mbrrrr.

First there was the Fake Outdoors Phenomenon: That predilection among Seattle restaurateurs to creatively blur lines between outdoor and indoor spaces, perhaps by “walling” outdoor patios with sheets of Visqueen—think Big Chickie in Hillman City—or installing removable windows—think Uneeda Burger in Fremont—or featuring open-to-the-sidewalk garage doors—think pretty much everywhere on Capitol Hill.

Now restaurateurs seem to be boldly foregoing indoor pretense altogether by opening restaurants with much larger outdoor than indoor spaces. We saw the first of this four years ago when the ecologically minded Humble Pie opened as a shipping container and patio, period. As of last month it has added a covered patio—a solar-panel-covered patio, natch—but in the main: you “eat in” at Humble Pie, you’re eating under the weather next to a chicken coop.

Now, I like Humble Pie as much as the next guy (and the next)—and a sunshiny Seattle day is glorious for sitting outside. But does this business model, in a city whose majority of days are wet or cold or at least un-warm, strike anyone else as something like…denial?

If so, it’s a popular form. Consider what has opened since. Frolik, the restaurant/bar atop downtown’s Helix Hotel, features acres of outdoor rooftop seating complete with games and upholstered couches. White Swan Public House and its adjunct seafood shack 100-Lb. Clam have a big Lake Union-side seating area which is essential to the latter—and close to it for the relatively small former. Mbar, the rooftop masterpiece from the Mamnoon folks, boasts an outdoor footprint more than twice the size of its indoor—where cold and rain simply mean more blankets and closer heatlamps. (You’ll find my review in this month’s Seattle Met.)

What’s going on? With Ounces, the West Seattle beer garden which opened in November and where the outdoor seating area is five times larger than the indoor, owner Laurel Trujillo reportedly steered into the weather. Her aim was “to create a space that will be open outdoors no matter what type of weather—rain, shine, or windstorm,” she told Seattle Eater. Sure, there’s a big tent and patio heaters.


Restaurateur denial? If so, diners are denying right alongside ‘em. The other night an Mbar staffer assured me that yes, guests indeed choose tables outside when it’s stormy. Combined with the fact that places like Humble Pie and Big Chickie are still in business, it makes me wonder if Pemco Insurance’s famous Northwest Profile #72—“Year-‘Round Shorts Dude”—might actually be a Thing, and if denial might not be the most rational—if freezing—place for a sun-starved Seattleite to plant herself.


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