A rendering of the future outdoor dining space at Vicia image courtesy of vicia

New outdoor dining areas at three St. Louis favorites signal a city-wide sea change

When the COVID-19 pandemic first started filling sidewalks with patio furniture, the moves were a temporary solution to an unpredictable problem. About a year and a half later, and numerous St. Louis restaurants are taking big steps to raise their outdoor dining game, for immediate pandemic-related needs and beyond.

Restaurants with no previous outdoor dining space were forced to operate differently or close, and tough problems can inspire incredible solutions. A prime example of that is the new outdoor dining room at Tony's, now officially open, which was mentioned in our story on outdoor dining in Clayton. It elevates the Centene Plaza and secludes visitors from traffic with a series of planters and a waterfall. 

The increase in volume will be pleasing news to anyone seeking a reservation, with 10 new tables and more than 30 new seats. The space itself is impressive, with a heated floor and adjustable roof contributing extra function in addition to the obligatory sophistication. It's a great new way to indulge in an elegant old favorite.

The Crow's Nest in Maplewood has almost tripled its patio space with a brand new three-season phase addition that debuted in early August. Co-owner Eliza Coriell said the project came about due to COVID, but the upgrades weren't limited to business-saving stopgaps. “The roof was non-negotiable, especially because we thought it would be done in the spring, and then we wanted a server station, so that staff wouldn't always need to be funneling inside. And then we wanted a double staircase, because we've always shared a staircase with Penzeys, and they've been so nice about the fact that we've got people smoking right outside their store—so we wanted to make sure we could each have our own.” 

And a space upgrade can do more than just solve social distancing problems. “Obviously with COVID spacing we can have the table numbers to keep us in business,” Coriell said. “And then without COVID spacing we're going to have two more tables than the old patio, and have them all on one side, so along the other wall will be a kind of non-food area for bar customers.” 

Flexibility is also a key feature of a new development at Vicia. Ground has broken on a new outdoor dining space, and co-owner Tara Gallina plans to use it for events and pop-up dinners for remainder of this year's cooperative weather before turning it into the setting for a new project, Vicia Gardenside, which will offer a more flexible, casual experience than Vicia's 3-course “Farmer's Feast” tasting menu.

 “It will give us an opportunity to do something different and provide a lot of flexibility,” Gallina said. “Vicia Gardenside will be able to provide something for people who aren't looking for a full tasting menu, to offer a dish or two and a more casual experience.” 

The gardenside dining area will have two levels, with the top level covered by a cantilevered canopy, and seat just over 50 people. Each area will be surrounded by a garden designed in conjunction with Custom Foodscaping, who they worked with on their current garden. The patio itself is being designed by SPACE architecture, who has a strong list of St. Louis restaurants in their portfolio.

Outdoor dining's mass event of 2020 may not have landed on its feet at full speed, but the path forward is a hopeful one. “I was amazed at last year, how many people were eating dinner beside a fire pit,” Gallina said. “If we're in a situation like that again, then we'll be able to make that a better experience.” If the developments at Vicia, The Crow's Nest, and Tony's are any indication, then people will be celebrating, rather than lamenting, the ascendancy of outdoor dining in the St. Louis restaurant and bar scene.