From pop-up to permanent

How the pandemic’s temporary spaces may change our streetscapes forever

Day or night, it’s all fun and games at The Keefer Yard, the patio created from an empty lot next door. Photo courtesy of The Keefer Bar

When restaurants and bars were given the green light last year to open temporary patios in response to the pandemic’s toll, the team at The Keefer Bar didn’t want people sipping cool cocktails on alley benches. In went a mini-putt course, fire tables on custom wooden decks, booths, a disco ball and artist-designed graffiti on the walls. The Keefer Yard was born.

“It feels like you’ve walked out of normal city life and stepped through the doors of Narnia, only it’s an outdoor cocktail bar,” says The Keefer Bar’s media-relations rep, Chantelle Benzies. “I describe it as a daydream.

“Every day we are adapting in ways to make the Yard as memorable of an experience as possible, while also keeping it as safe as possible,” she says. “It feels really nice to be able to offer an exciting experience to the community at a point when many of us need it the most.”

Since June 2020, more than 400 temporary patio permits have been approved in the City of Vancouver alone. Expanded outdoor dining areas have become a lifeline for restaurants and bars as the pandemic drags on. Taking the long view, should these spaces become permanent, they have the potential to do more than simply provide pandemic-friendly places for people to eat and drink. They can beautify streetscapes, boost livability and build community.

New patios have popped up all over B.C. like the ones on the lawn and parking lot at Spinnakers brewpub in Victoria. As owner Paul Hadfield says, “If we’re allowed to be creative, maybe out of this we can re-engineer some of the things we do in our urban environments to make them more fun, safer and interactive.” Photo courtesy of Spinnakers

Paul Hadfield, an architect by training who owns Spinnakers Gastro Brewpub & Guesthouses in Victoria, acted quickly to build an inviting space after seeing people come by for takeout post-lockdown last spring. Rather than take their food home, many would sit on the curbs in the parking lot to eat; they were just happy to be out and enjoying a restaurant meal. So Spinnakers got approval to expand its parking-lot seating. The team drilled holes in wine barrels to stick umbrellas in and placed stools around them. They installed gazebos with metal roofs, providing shade on sunny days and shelter on rainy ones. Hadfield is hoping they’ll be able to set up picnic tables on an unused adjacent grassy area and offer lawn games as well as the pub’s spectacular harbour views.

“There are lots of opportunities for people to stick together in their group, but still get out and do that socializing thing—it is so necessary, so needed,” Hadfield says. “It’s a difficult and challenging time for a lot of people, and all of this goes back to the pub being the public house and fulfilling that role in the community.”

While some temporary patios are simply enclosures built of bollards and two-by-fours in blocked-off traffic lanes, others are destinations unto themselves.

The B-Side patio next to Say Mercy! was inspired by Venice Beach surf culture. Katie Cross Photography photo

Inspired by Venice Beach surf culture, B-Side is the outdoor complement to Say Mercy! Pink picnic tables, a pastel-striped railing, multicoloured benches, twinkly lights and a bike rack give it a happy, laid-back vibe. Burdock & Co’s patio is an urban oasis full of fragrant plantings like artemisia, fennel, verbena, fuki (a Japanese edible) and myoga (a type of ginger), with artist Johhnie Christmas’s brilliantly bright mural as a backdrop. Fairmont Pacific Rim’s Patio Pop-up is back in the plaza this summer, with grass seating areas inspired by Japanese rice paddies along with lounge seating, picnic tables, live plants and outdoor barbecue. (Look for rotating gin cocktails and a fun selection of rosé.)

Fairmont Pacific Rim’s Patio Pop-up is a relaxing oasis downtown. Christian Jones photo

Hadfield sees such spaces as a means to enhance the urban experience.

“If we can make a really interesting, welcoming, comfortable place to add to the streetscape, therein lies a really cool opportunity,” Hadfield says. “It would be more like European roads, where it becomes natural to want to sit outside and watch the streetscape go by. When we have streetscapes where restaurants and bars are open after stores are closed, it becomes much more alive. If we’re allowed to be creative, maybe out of this we can re-engineer some of the things we do in our urban environments to make them more fun, safer and interactive.”

The hidden patio at Burdock & Co is bright with colourful flowers and striking murals. Photo courtesy of Burdock & Co

Patios can add a sense of vibrancy as well as normalcy, particularly when so much about city life has been taken away from us due to COVID-19, notes Meg Holden, professor in the urban studies program at SFU.

“I like to remind people of the Paris arcades of the 1800s—some of which still exist—the first urban public spaces designed and offered to urbanites for just lingering, loitering and enjoying,” Holden says. “This was the birth of café culture, urbanism as a way of life, and profoundly liberating for people of modest means to be able to experience the full diversity of the city. It was a brilliant idea then and remains critically important to keeping the fabric of our cities woven together, even during difficult times.”

Make these summer- and outdoors-inspired cocktails to sip on your patio:

Dachi’s Sooke Sunrise
Pourhouse’s Live @ 5
Chickadee Room’s Return of the Sumac

—by Gail Johnson

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