Winter is coming, but outdoor dining will still be in effect at Gloucester’s Mile Marker One, thanks to a set of cleverly designed piping-and-plastic igloos lined up on the deck at the popular summer destination.
“We’re trying to come up with everything we can to be creative and let people feel safe,” says general manager Patrick Hurd. “We’re going to create a kind of winter wonderland.”
The restaurant and bar, part of the Cape Ann Marina Resort, will kick off the season with four igloos consisting of a framework of PVC pipes covered with heavy plastic sheeting. The marina crew shrink-wraps more than 500 boats each year, building structures on the vessel to support the material, so they were easily able to put those same skills to work constructing the new domes.
Each structure is fronted by a colorful wooden door. The igloos will have heaters, though the well-sealed plastic exterior is remarkably effective at holding in the heat from the sun as well – on a recent, blustery 40-degree day, the interior of one dome was toasty and chill-free.
Resort owner Tobin Dominick first had the idea to build deck igloos a few years ago, after seeing something similar online. She kept the concept in the back of her mind until this year when the coronavirus pandemic suddenly made it seem like a very promising move.
Inside, each dome will hold up to six people. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner will all be available with a reservation made at least 24 hours ahead of time. The Mile Marker menu is, naturally, heavy on the seafood, with many locally caught options available (think horseradish-crusted haddock). Burgers, salads, and steaks round out the offerings.
The restaurant is also adapting its indoor dining operation to serve diners as safely as possible in the colder weather. The resort’s indoor pool will be closed for swimming this year, and the area surrounding it re-imagined as a dining area. The room is especially suited to safe dining because it is already equipped with a high-end ventilation system required of indoor pool spaces, Hurd explains.
One wall has been hung with dozens of potted plants, and walls of faux shrubbery separate some of the tables. A small blue dory has been anchored in the middle of the pool for additional atmosphere.
“This is a complete transformation from what it was,” Hurd says.
An adjoining bar and dining area was completely renovated last winter, but had only been open for a few days when business shutdowns went into effect in March. The space features a wall of windows overlooking the marina docks, tables handmade from repurposed lobster traps, and a gleaming new granite bar. It reopened at the end of October, with a few COVID-inspired changes, including more space between tables, a wall of glass separating the area behind the bar from the rest of the room, and dividers separating some of the seating spaces.
Evolving in the pandemic era has been challenging for the resort, Hurd and Dominick say. They were lucky, however, to already have a spacious deck that could be adapted fairly easily to the demands of socially-distanced outdoor service. The restaurant’s location within an active marina also helped it stay busy during a trying time, Dominick says.
“We’re using what we had,” she says, “and reinventing it.”