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Rooftop igloos among downtown Durham's COVID-conscious dining options

<p>Socially-distanced dining has inspired some creative solutions, but is an expensive, plushly-furnished igloo the best alternative to regular outdoor dining?</p>

Socially-distanced dining has inspired some creative solutions, but is an expensive, plushly-furnished igloo the best alternative to regular outdoor dining?

This week, we reached a milestone that none of us ever thought or hoped we would reach: we have now lived in the COVID-19 crisis for an entire year. When reflecting on the aspects of life that have changed the most over the last year, one notable difference is how restaurants have adapted their businesses to simultaneously keep their doors open and keep their staff and customers safe.

Some common measures that restaurants have taken to increase COVID safety include reducing dining room capacity, increasing outdoor seating areas, spacing tables out at least six feet apart and requiring masks at all times when not eating. 

This topic has become especially relevant for Duke students; living in a foodie town like Durham, lots of students are constantly looking to try out new foods and restaurants while remaining socially-distanced and COVID-safe.

So, after about a semester of trying to determine which restaurants are safe to go to, a new consideration has been added to the list as of late 2020 — Igloos.

The igloos are set up on the patio of the Unscripted Hotel in downtown Durham. Each one is furnished with couches, chairs, decorative pillows and throw blankets, and fairy lights draped across the walls. There is only one party allowed per Igloo, and to further minimize COVID risks, they zip each party up inside their igloos and require masks to be worn at all times when outside of your Igloo.

The Igloos not only tackle the issue of COVID transmission in dining areas, but also the issue that has faced us all winter long, which is that eating outdoors is not so appealing when the weather is anywhere below 50 degrees. The Igloos offer a pseudo-indoor experience, with the added benefit of cozy blankets in case you do get cold, but without the risk of being exposed to (or exposing) others outside of your immediate party.

My one question about these Igloos, which you might be wondering too, was about sanitization. Luckily, my question was quickly answered with some research. According to the Unscripted Hotel’s website, “Igloos are cleaned after every use and we allow a 30-minute gap between parties to reset the space. We use an Electro-static Fog machine that completely sanitizes the Igloo within seconds.”

Additionally, the menus are digitized and blankets are washed after each use. It appears that sanitation and COVID safety would not actually be the main concern for Duke students looking to try out a new experience. Rather, the issue may be money.

For a party of 1-5 people, customers must spend a minimum of $300 in the igloo. For many of us, however, spending $300 between just a few people in one night is not feasible. Other restaurants that also offer heated Igloos, such as the Lynnwood Grill & Brewing Concern in Raleigh, have similar fees; for up to four guests here, you must spend a minimum of $200.

While this steep price may have been worth it in the much colder months, it is starting to warm up in North Carolina. With more comfortable temperatures, regular outdoor dining may once again become popular. 

If you would really like the safe dining experience of eating in your own private Igloo, then by all means, book one. Just be wary, however, that prices run steep and, often, the Igloos at Unscripted are completely booked weeks in advance. 

In the coming spring and summer months, one of Durham’s many local restaraunts are a great way to soak in the warmth. These include Vin Rouge just off Ninth Street, Bull City Burger and Brewery, located downtown and Plum, just outside of downtown.

Last semester, The Streetery was a great option on the weekends that allowed restaurants to extend their outdoor seating into the streets of downtown Durham, accompanied with live music. The Streetery is set to return March 19 and Durhamites will soon be able to venture outside and support local restaurants as the weather warms.

The pandemic has forced restaurants to adapt their dining models, and the Igloos are just one example of how businesses continued to draw in customers during the cold months while preserving a safe atmosphere. Do not think, however, that the igloos are a must-try in Durham — there are plenty of local businesses to support and other safe dining experiences to be had (that will also cost way less money!)

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