Winter patio tests the ice in Halifax

With another Atlantic winter keeping Haligonians cowering at home, some people are pushing to get outside and pull up a seat to the bar.

Fire & Ice — a fully-winterized outdoor bar — opened Dec. 5 at The Bicycle Thief restaurant. The Bishop’s Landing establishment is hoping to get people alfresco with their luxurious furs, fiery torches and warm cocktails.

“Never before have we had a patio open in the winter, especially on the waterfront in Nova Scotia,” says John Michael Brewer, communications coordinator for the restaurant’s owner, Bertossi Group.

In European countries, the cold weather doesn’t deter people from being outdoors in the winter months. But Haligonians need more exciting cold-weather activities than skiing or skating.

“We’re really bad at it here, which is funny considering we have such a long cold winter and no real spring to speak of, you’d think people would be figuring this kind of thing out more,” says Lia Rinaldo, managing director of Devour! The Food Film Fest, who visited Fire & Ice in mid-December.

Rinaldo was excited when she heard about the bar through social media and hopes more people will be willing to get out in the cold.

“It would be nice to see a few more spots jump on the bandwagon and make up their own experiences — an outdoor fire pit or fireplace or a wind-protected little heated inner courtyard,” she says.

Toronto, Windsor, Ont. and New York City have patios open year- round, but Fire & Ice is a first for the East Coast.

“I think everyone thought we were crazy to open a patio in the winter but everyone was really excited to see how it was going to go,” says Brewer, discussing permits needed to open a winter patio in Halifax.

He explains the procedure is similar to summer but the application elicited a few raised eyebrows.

The Bicycle Thief put significant effort into assuring tolerable conditions for an evening outdoors. The bar faces into Bishop Landing’s courtyard, giving shelter from the chilly ocean winds and is protected by a wall of trees. Fur hats, scarves and blankets are provided for extra warmth.

Hot cocktails dominate the menu. The Fire & Ice shot combines a Veuve Clicquot- soaked oyster with Belvedere vodka, while classic hot chocolate is gussied up with Hennessy XO cognac. Mulled wine is also featured, a very popular beverage at many outdoor venues around the world, especially Germany.

The bar is open 5 p.m. Friday and Saturday, weather permitting.

How cold is too cold to be open? “As long as you’re comfortable,” says Brewer. “I mean we’re Nova Scotians, we’re used to having to deal with that brisk cold, so it’s more so not with temperature as much with Mother Nature and the mix of snow or rain.”

Halifax offers outdoor activities, like skating around the Oval or the local ice wine festival, but many people stay indoors. Haligonians are reluctant to embrace winter activities.

Arthur Gaudreau supports the idea of eating and drinking outdoors on a calm winter day, claiming it is part of the Canadian spirit.

“I vividly remember the first time I did it in Copenhagen and thought this is living, why fight winter, just embrace it,” says Gaudreau, creator of Halifax ReTales, a website focused on the HRM retail and restaurant scene.

“Americans in northern football cities like Chicago, Boston, New York, Buffalo brave the cold, tailgate outside and enjoy the game. In U.K., Scandinavia and Germany soccer continues throughout the winter,” says Gaudreau.

“In Canada our solution to winter is stay indoors, and I say, ‘nay.’”

Those who don't want to skate or ski have a new winter activity: enjoying a warm drink in the great outdoors. (Photo: Gabby Peyton)
Those who don’t want to skate or ski have a new winter activity: enjoying a warm drink in the great outdoors. (Photo: Gabby Peyton)