Hitting the Mark with Outdoor Dining


SPRING IS THE BUFFER SEASON, when daylight savings time brings an extra hour of sunlight, and the cool air starts to warm.  Summer’s coming, and locals start thinking about outdoor dining around Cape Ann.

But over at the Mile Marker One restaurant overlooking the Annisquam River in Gloucester, patrons have been enjoying outdoor dining all winter long in a series of snug, heated waterfront igloo domes, noshing on hearty winter menu items, enjoying cocktails and wine, and private-dining style service while looking out on the sleepy docks of the Cape Ann Marina.  It’s creative, delicious, and beautiful—not to mention fun.

“The igloos have been a game changer for us,” said Tobin Dominick, managing partner of Cape Ann Marina and Mile Marker One, about the new form of waterfront dining.  

It all started in 2019, when Tobin and her brother, Drew, who manages the marina side of the family business, were looking to expand beyond the ever-popular summer boating months.  They had just hired Patrick Hurd, a seasoned restaurant and resort manager with deep experience in the US Virgin Islands as general manager.  

Hurd had an idea:  What about outdoor dining?  In the winter?

The next thing that happened may not be surprising.  Covid hit, and while other restaurants started their pivot and adapted to social distancing, outdoor dining, and social bubbles, at Mile Marker One the next step was obvious.  

“Igloo Village” was born, sited on the outdoor summer deck.  Drew Dominick and the marina team designed and built about a dozen igloos by shrink-wrapping structural pipe domes with the very same vinyl used to winterize boats in the marina.  They sealed the decking slats below the domes, installed high-grade “Isinglass” panoramic windows for the view, and built real wood entry doors painted in happy Caribbean colors.  Inside, the igloos were decorated with hanging light fixtures, webbed wall coverings for texture, and as a final (and necessary) touch, they put in portable (and adjustable) heaters.

Over time, Igloo Village has become something of a hit, especially among bloggers seeking out local curiosities.  Tobin Dominick said customers come because they’re curious, but they return because the experience is fun and warm and beautiful.  And this time of year is amazing she says, because the weather’s getting milder, and the later sunsets mean diners spend more time next to that great view.

Longtime Mile Marker One customers love staples like the grass-fed burger, the epic lobster roll, or the restaurant’s famed Painkiller cocktail (an off-menu go-to for those in the know).  And they're all available in the winter season.  

But Tobin says some new items have become a hit and may stick around beyond the cold season.  The Pumpkin Butter Board is a shared appetizer that’s both hearty and delicious, with pumpkin mascarpone butter, apples, pears, pomegranates, spiced garbanzos, pepitas, and EVOO-grilled ciabatta.  And the Lobster Mac & Cheese with lumache pasta, peas, and toasted panko feels just right for a cozy evening of igloo dining.  So does the Horseradish-Crusted Haddock with crispy leeks, herb-mashed potatoes, and balsamic shallot reduction.

For sure, winter outdoor dining has become a growing trend around New England as restaurants seek new ways to attract customers during the colder months.  

Outdoor heaters, fire pits, and even blankets are commonly used to create a warm atmosphere.  And, like Mile Marker One, some restaurants have used igloos, tents, and other enclosures to draw customers in.  In 2022, Wine Garden at City Winery in Hudson, Mass., also offered private heated domes for a cozy and intimate dining experience.  And in Boston, The Lookout Rooftop and Bar at the Envoy Hotel now offers heated igloos with views of the city skyline.  

After all, it’s location and atmosphere of outdoor dining spaces that play a crucial role in the success of winter outdoor dining.  And Mile Marker One’s got all that.  In spades.

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