The outdoor dining shed in front of Dirt Candy, one of New York City’s best vegetarian restaurants, has been mostly empty since November. After relying on the structure to get through the pandemic to that point, Amanda Cohen, the restaurant’s chef and owner, decided to stop serving food outside. She briefly entertained the idea of continuing to use the shed to serve drinks. Then the weather got cold, and nobody seemed interested in shivering over a $17 mezcal with cucumber. “Outside bar is not a thing,” she texted me a week into the experiment. She noted that a passerby carrying his own beer had sat and made himself at home. Here, at least, was a satisfied guest—even if he wasn’t, in the formal sense, a customer.
Even so, Cohen couldn’t bring herself to tear the shed down. “What if we get a fourth, fifth wave? I’ve lost count,” she said. In December, as if on cue, omicron appeared, and a few people started taking those drinks outside after all.