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Dining and lounge ‘igloos’ give guests an outdoor option

Updated January 3, 2022 - 1:51 pm

They’re beginning to pop up at Las Vegas businesses, as in cities across the country: igloo-like enclosures that enable people to dine and drink outdoors even when the weather is decidedly chilly.

Esther’s Kitchen pioneered the pods last winter and will offer them again this year.

“Everyone dug them so much,” said chef/owner James Trees. “A lot of people had not been out in six months, in eight months, and this was their first dining experience. They fell in love with the idea. They never had to even walk into the restaurant if they didn’t want to. That was a huge thing, especially for our immuno-compromised guests. That was a huge return to normalcy.”

Station Casinos has been operating six igloos, four at Red Rock Resort’s Merry Crimson and two at Winter at the Terrace at Green Valley Ranch Resort in Henderson. While Red Rock’s Merry Crimson igloos run this season just ended, the Green Valley Ranch igloo lounges are slated to continue operating through February.

“The inspiration came from these popup winter villages that we were seeing on social media in New York City,” said Joe Yalda, vice president of guest experience at Red Rock. “Like at Bryant Park and Rockefeller Center. When we saw them we thought they would be a really cool attraction — awesome photo ops, and a fun, safe experience for you and your group.”

Tivoli Village announced plans to install six of the enclosures to serve customers at Ada’s Wine Bar, El Dorado Cantina, Leone Cafe and PKWY Tavern, but a spokeswoman said they “aren’t operational at the moment.” Trees, who also owns Ada’s as well as the Tivoli restaurant Al Solito Posto, said the reason is all too familiar to him.

Trees’ idea at Esther’s last year was to buy 6-by-8-foot greenhouses at homedepot.com and install them in the open outdoor space behind his Arts District restaurant to serve as sort of private dining rooms.

A simple and elegant solution, right? Except city inspectors didn’t see them that way.

“What we learned is that the fire marshal was very specific about the materials you were allowed to use,” Trees said. “They came out and told us we had to recover them with fire-rated material. It seems like a very simple thing to do, but we were in a very short time frame and had a predicament.”

So he had them recovered — at a cost of $25,000.

“When Tivoli put those up, they hadn’t learned that expensive but valuable lesson,” Trees said, a fact confirmed by city of Las Vegas spokesman Jace Radke, who said the city has fire-prevention standards for outdoor dining.

But Trees said demand for the enclosure is such that he was willing to make the investment, and this year he’s working with the city on a special-use permit.

Radke explained that last year, the city allowed for temporary outdoor seating to help restaurants, but that expired July 1. Now, he said, operators are required to adhere to the city’s base codes for both licensing and zoning.

“Chef Trees is going though an amended entitlement approval,” Radke said, which Trees said is a special-use permit.

“By getting the special-use permit, we will be able to bring this back every year,” Trees said. “Obviously, we wanted to be sure we were safe and we were all dialed-in.”

The greenhouses were recovered in yellow, green and blue material, which he said are Esther’s colors. They each had heaters, lights and art. The outdoor area, which had eight enclosures last year but this year will have six, also has artificial turf and a fire pit.

“All of that has to be permitted by the city,” Trees said.

He said Wednesday that he expects the area, which was designed by Esther’s general manager Keith Bracewell, to be ready for guests in about two weeks.

“Out of this survival mode we were in (last year), we made it feel really good back there,” Trees said. “It felt like you were in Jackson Hole (Wyo.), like in an apres-ski area. People could wear their warm clothes and hang out there to eat. It ended up being something very special that came out of something that was a necessity. People keep hitting us up on our website for reservations for them” for this year.

Yaldo said reservations for Station’s igloos have tended to sell out in advance. The fee is a $250 beverage minimum, and the party can keep the space for up to three hours. The igloos seat up to six and are furnished with loungers. They don’t have heaters, but blankets are provided and guests are advised to dress warmly.

“Our igloos are our most sought-after location,” he said late last month. “They’re probably one of the most Instagrammable moments out there.”

Contact Heidi Knapp Rinella at Hrinella@reviewjournal.com. Follow @HKRinella on Twitter.

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