Punxsutawney Phil, the most famous groundhog in Pennsylvania, predicted six more weeks of winter earlier this month and if you believe that a rodent can act as a weatherman, you may be looking for ways to keep warm when venturing outside. With COVID case rates still high, you may also be looking for a way to avoid in-person contact when you eat out. Luckily, Durham restaurants are adapting to current needs with an increase in opportunities for heated, outdoor dining. But the question remains, where can you grab a bite outside and really stay warm?
I wanted to find places around Durham where I could eat outdoors without freezing, and so I picked a plethora of options that represented a good mix of date spots, group destinations and places to grab a quick beverage.
First up is Local 22, where I enjoyed a spicy chicken sandwich and a flight of beers. I was one of the only people who chose to sit outside that night at a table next to a standing heater that kept me relatively warm. Overhead heaters hung over a few of the tables, too, but unfortunately I didn’t get placed there. Music played over outdoor speakers made the occasion a little more lively. Nevertheless, I kept looking inside and yearning to be with those people. If I hadn’t scored a seat right next to the standing heater, I would’ve complained more about the chilly air. Still, I would recommend stopping by, just with a thicker coat.
After Local 22, I went to BoxCar to check out their outdoor seating. Most of the allure of BoxCar is inside: There’s an arcade where you can blow your money on tokens and convince yourself you’re really good at shooting hoops and hunting imaginary animals. Because of this, people don’t generally sit outside, so if you head outdoors, you tend to find yourself yearning to be with the crowd. There are ping pong tables outside, which give groups the option of gathering outdoors with an activity. Also outside are picnic tables and an electric fire that a large group can comfortably crowd around. The electric flames don’t give off much heat, though, so I wouldn’t recommend this place if you want to gamble on staying warm throughout the night without a puffer jacket–unless you’re sweating from an intense ping pong match.
If you’re looking for a beautiful, lively spot to grab lunch outdoors, head to Guglhupf. Most people chose to sit outside anyways, so you don’t feel like you’re missing out on any action. It’s a mix of families, old couples and a smattering of hungover college kids. Under the surprisingly warm overhead heaters and some midday sun, you’ll feel incredibly comfortable people-watching and eating your eggs Benedict.
I chose to go to Parizade on one of the worst weather days I’ve ever seen in Durham. Rain, cold, the works. Normally, the outdoor courtyard has heaters, lights and the occasional live music performance by a man singing John Mayer songs and strumming his guitar. Unfortunately, because of the rain, the uncovered courtyard was out of commission the night I visited. Instead, I sat in the covered patio at the front of the restaurant, where the setup felt similar to the one at Parizade’s next-door neighbor, Local 22. Despite some coverage from the wind, the weather prevailed, making this a bit of a miserable dinner.
Jack Tar and the Colonel’s Daughter is situated in the heart of downtown Durham, right next to Pour and the Unscripted Hotel, so it doesn’t feel lonely to sit outside. I learned my lesson from my Parizade experience, so I checked the weather beforehand and dressed properly for the occasion, with a scarf, puffer jacket, jeans and boots. The standing heaters next to the tables kept the group pretty toasty, but only for a short amount of time. I would go here for an appetizer before heading out to explore more of downtown.
At JuJu, my request to sit outside in the cold was met with a shocked look. The reason quickly became clear once I went out on the patio. If you aren’t seated underneath the overhead heaters it is very difficult to stay warm around a fire that doesn’t emit much heat. It is not a popular option to eat outside here, especially at night as I did, but if you have a warm jacket and are stationed directly under the heaters, you can keep warm. You are not protected from the wind in these seats, which means you’ll end up being colder than at a place with wind barriers.
East Cut doesn’t currently have indoor seating, but out back is a tent where you can enjoy a classic deli sandwich with friends. The tent doesn’t have heaters. It does properly protect you from a lot of the outside cold, though, which is why I included East Cut in this roundup. I recommend visiting during the day, since it is a lot easier to stay warm in the heat of the sun. In the tent, you can share a meal comfortably and casually on East Cut’s picnic tables.
The last stop on my exploration across Durham landed me at the picnic tables outside of Ponysaurus Brewing, a place that was built to entertain customers outdoors. After grabbing a beverage, you can enter a lively space outfitted with real wood fires. There are also standing heaters next to the picnic tables to keep you comfortable. This doesn’t mean you should shed the jacket, but it does mean that your friends can cozy around and enjoy one another’s company.
- Always check the weather before heading out to dine outside. Not only will this help you dress properly for the occasion, but it also might suggest when to throw in the towel and get takeout instead.
- Restaurants with the right combination of standing heaters, overhead heaters, music and tents or screens to block the wind provide an environment that people really want to experience. The best combination of heaters are from standing and overhead options. A tent or a collection of fire pits can provide an element of coziness while still ensuring that you feel far away enough from others to feel COVID-safe.
- Most outdoor places are great for a drink or a quick bite. If you choose to settle in for three courses, though, the temperature often gets very chilly before the end of the meal, so I would keep this in mind as you plan your next outdoor outing in the Bull City.
If you’re looking for even more options to try out, check out Discover Durham’s complete list of eating and drinking spots with outdoor heating.
Above: Durhamites dine al fresco at local restaurants, with some help from outdoor heaters. Photos by Claire Kraemer, Milena Ozernova and Kulsoom Rizavi.