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Patio pints: Calgary pub operators bank on hardy crowds for winter buzz

Bar owners and managers around Calgary said it’s about survival.

With frigid temperatures already here, many are concerned about generating enough revenue to stay in business due to capacity restrictions and customers’ fears of indoor seating.

But a number of local establishments have resorted to a beloved summer pastime to overcome economic difficulties.


Since March 1 of 2020, the city of Calgary has approved 56 development permits for permanent outdoor cafes on private property. There have also been 24 approved development permits for temporary outdoor cafes on private property since that time.

There were 116 temporary patios approved on public property (roads and sidewalks) to increase capacity for restaurants and bars during a time when seating was forced lower.

The city also said that they’ve had approximately 300 pre-application inquiries from business interested in patios.

But after the snow started to come down, many of these patios were ordered to shut down. Snow had to be removed from streets and sidewalks.

That’s left some businesses wondering how they would meet financial needs again.

A struggle to survive

“I worry about it [surviving],” said Mike de Jonge, the owner of Marda Loop Brewing Co.

“But instead of focusing on what’s not working, and how things are going to go, we tend to want to shift towards ‘okay what can bring revenue’ and ‘how do I keep the community happy.’”

He added that his business was different than others when it came to taking down their patios.

De Jonge said that because they occupying city property and not street space, their temporary summer patios were allowed to stay open when it started snowing.

“What we ended up doing was we have an overhang over our two patios,” he said.

“And we installed some really high-powered heaters under that so that all of our seats that are against the building are essentially covered and heated.”

People feel more comfortable outside

Another Calgary pub spot has also decided to keep their patio open. Both the permanent and temporary outdoor areas saw a good deal of summer success.

This summer, the Rose and Crown Pub used up their parking lot to add roughly 75 more seats.

Rose and Crown Pub is keeping their patio open for the winter of 2020/21. (OMAR SHERIF / FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY)

After the temporary patio’s success, the pub’s general manager decided that they would keep their permanent patio open through the winter.

“We’ve had a large amount of people asking about it,” said Dennis Madden, Rose and Crown’s general manager.

He added that with the current situation a lot of people he’s talked to feel more comfortable outside than inside.

Rose and Crown’s permanent outdoor patio gives the bar 70 more seats, which is about a 30 per cent increase in capacity over the winter.

Over the summer, Marda Loop Brewing Co. saw their revenue increase by more than 20 per cent because of the newly-installed, 14-seat temporary patio. It’s still open and has been outfitted for the winter. De Jonge said they had to hire more staff to keep up with all the customers coming in.

But their patio looks a lot different now than it did a few months ago.

“We didn’t get that season when it’s 10 Celsius for a few weeks,” said de Jonge.

“It just went right to minus five, so it’ll be really interesting to see what happens in the next couple of weeks.

“But our patio has been really really quiet since then.”

Innovating and adapting

De Jonge thinks that having patios open may help businesses, but he explained that if people don’t want to go out because of COVID, having a patio open will not suddenly make them want to go out.

Instead, he’s trying to innovate and look towards what the community needs to keep afloat.

“My idea is, what are the current needs in the marketplace? If people can’t or don’t want to sit outside because of weather or COVID, what do people need right now?” de Jonge asked.

“I’m looking for answers to those questions and trying to fill the new needs that have come up from COVID for people.”

de Jonge said that he, along with other Calgary small business owners, are trying to be resilient during this time.

“We tend to think about how we can keep our employees working,” he said.

“How do I be a part of the solution to this to this pandemic.”

Whether that’s more capacity, adding delivery services, or other ways of innovating, local businesses are tapping into what the community needs and wants during this time.

“We have a lot of customers that are choosing more to sit outside,” said Geoff Allan, general manager at Bottlescrew Bill’s pub.

The bar decided to renovate their patio, which Allan said typically operates as a 3-season patio, to have it ready for the winter.

“I think it should be pretty well received,” he said.

“I think it’s more for people that are maybe more cautious or more fearful. They’ll take that patio option over going inside.”

Brews and best buds

While it’s not a new thing, the Rose and Crown’s permanent patio, which will be open throughout winter, is dog friendly.

It’s something Madden believes will bring more people down and possibly turn this one-off experience into more of a tradition.

“Maybe next year people are going to go ‘hey why don’t you open it again because we like nothing better than coming down sitting outside, and we can bring our dogs, enjoy the sunshine,'” he said.

Whether winter patios will become a new Calgary tradition or not, Madden thinks that it’ll be a time to look back on.

“It’s just something different,” he said.

“I think years from now, people will say ‘hey remember in December we were sitting outside on the patio with our toques and mitts on, having a Guinness.'”

“I’m sure it’ll be something to look back on.”

Lulu Bar will be operating a patio for the winter of 2020/21. (OMAR SHERIF / FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY)

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