During the winter doldrums, Boston venues get creative to bring in guests
The “shotski” is the most popular drink order at Publico Street Bistro & Garden in South Boston.
It’s a downhill ski studded with equidistant shot glasses that get filled up with liquor — most commonly, the “Nutcracker,” a biting blend of Vespertino and Jack Daniels Honey. Once the drinks are ready, three people carefully lift the ski and knock back the shots simultaneously.
Patrons cheer. Instagrams are posted.
It’s just another festive night in the Lodge at Publico, where the restaurant’s atrium space is converted into an après-ski bar and lounge during the winter, complete with sleds and chalet decor. Not so bad for an idea that co-owner Theo Bougas originally deemed ridiculous.
“I was the first person to say, ‘That’s the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard of,’ ” says Bougas. “And boy, was I wrong.”
In Boston, the summer season is a 100-day sprint for the hospitality industry. In that brief window of perfect weather, restaurants can double their capacity by packing guests into outdoor spaces, patios, and decks where they can enjoy the breeze or cool off with cocktails.
Once the cold rolls in, that business generally grinds to a halt. But a handful of local hot spots have come up with ways to make the most of their outdoor all winter long. Besides Publico’s après-ski scene, the Liberty Hotel has set up an iceless outdoor “rink” for curling and cocktails, while Precinct at the Loews Boston Hotel in Back Bay unveiled its outdoor “Game of Thrones”-themed bar — decked out with space heaters and one fierce-looking dire wolf.
For Boston venues, it all makes sense. A place like Publico draws crowds to its atrium during the summer thanks to the retractable roof that allows sunshine to stream down on shorts- and sundress-clad cocktail drinkers. But last winter, the atrium space was a dead zone.
In an effort to pull in patrons, they cozied up the place. Now, guests curl up on benches made of sawed-off birch trees and chairs crafted out of Parlor Skis. The most coveted seats in the house are the orange sectional couches, each with its own fireplace, television, and plaid blankets.
Cheesy ski-themed movies like “Hot Tub Time Machine” are projected on the wall overhead, and guests nibble on dishes that put a spin on traditional après-ski junk food. At $60, the Black Diamond Dream — a combo of arancini, pretzel, grilled cheese, and sliders — is the most popular plate on the menu.
This year, people started inquiring about the Lodge back in August, Bougas says.
Publico’s use of a space that would be left empty in the off-season is an increasingly popular marketing tool for restaurants and hotels as they face pressure to create new immersive “experiences” for patrons.
Over in Beacon Hill, the Liberty Hotel has reinvented its outdoor space for winter as well. The Yard, which once upon a time was filled with inmates as the Charles Street Jail’s exercise area, is a popular summer spot for young professionals to flock for events like Yappier Hour, an off-leash dog and cocktail party, or the occasional wedding.
But Liberty General Manager Glenn Sampert, a native of Canada, wanted to capitalize on the fanfare he saw surrounding the USA Curling team during the Winter Olympics last year. So once cold weather set in, the hotel installed an iceless outdoor rink where guests play a modified version of the sport. Guests can also order curling-themed drinks like the Bonspiel, a blend of hot mulled cider and baking spices. The idea has been a goldmine for creating social media buzz, Sampert says.
“We literally were sold out within days of launching it well into January,” says Sampert. “Everything has exceeded our expectations.”
The Loews Boston Hotel has also reaped the benefits of using its outdoor patio during the winter. When a Precinct Kitchen + Bar employee tossed out the idea of converting the space into a “Game of Thrones”-themed bar, management went for it.
For this year’s “Winter Is Coming” pop-up, which opens Friday, Jan. 11, the Loews team will furnish the patio with fur pelts, bales of hay, space heaters, and an 11-foot-tall, fire-breathing (via a smoke machine) dragon. They’ve even converted one of the hotel’s king guest rooms into a “GoT”-themed retreat for guests looking to spend the night, and developed a menu based on the show, says Robert Rivers, general manager of the Loews Boston.
“Guests can come in, and if they want to order a $90 Tomahawk steak for two on a burnt piece of wood, we’re happy to serve it to you,” Rivers says.