Dome Sweet Dome

October 2021 View more

One of the many lingering questions in the months and years to come is the notion of how many of the trends and pivots inspired by the COVID-19 experience will last beyond the current crisis. From the biking boom to the remote work renaissance, only time will tell whether some of the most popular pandemic hacks were moment-in-time blips that will soon revert to pre-2020 norms or game-changing cultural shifts that will redefine how we live our lives. Restaurateurs and other hospitality honchos have, of course, been among those dealing with some of the most dramatic upheavals over the past 18 months, as they’ve attempted to navigate everything from labor shortages to intermittent lockdowns with creative and often day-by-day adjustments to the normal way of doing business. And all the while they’ve been looking ahead and asking that same key question: Does it make sense to invest in some of these strategies as if they’re going to be a substantial and sustainable piece of our business going forward?

Al Fresco Ad Infinitum?               

Take the rush to expand outdoor dining options, for example. Facing great uncertainty amid the lack of indoor dining at the height of the pandemic, many restaurant owners invested heavily in all manner of four-season dining kiosks and heated patios to give patrons a way to dine in relative safety and comfort—even outside of the traditional warm-weather alfresco season. 

That was certainly the case at Solemn Oath Brewery (1661 Quincy Ave., 630.995.3062), where CEO and founder John Barley and his team originally transformed the massive summer beer garden outside of their Naperville taproom into a forest of a dozen winter domes. These individual translucent igloos were designed to be ventilated and cleaned between parties as the cold season loomed in late 2020. Patrons picked up their craft beer selections from an outdoor stand to take back to their plastic huts, and local food trucks stopped by to supply the sustenance for this cozy temporary tent town—complete with trees, landscaping, and fire pits. All in all, it turned out to be a very workable solution to a seemingly unworkable situation. 

Back by Popular Demand

But the notion that the dome forest was a one-off product of a crazy year itself turned out to be a temporary one, as the rechristened Solemn Springs Community Oasis has proven its staying power as it barrels toward another chilly season. 

“Breweries serve a number of purposes,” says Barley. “One thing we feel strongly about is being a gathering place. That was really important for us to provide that.”

To that end, the brewery has a full slate of weekend food truck visits lined up heading into fall (check the website), with options ranging from the empanadas of the Grumpy Gaucho to the decadent rolls of the Happy Lobster. Chicago’s Paulie Gee’s, a nearby Logan Square neighbor to Solemn Oath’s recently opened taproom Still Life, also is serving up its Sicilian pizza squares. All of the mobile kitchens perched in the parking lot pair well with many of Solemn Oath’s most popular craft brews and City Water hard seltzers.

“This year we’re doing 10 to 12 events per week—we’ve got a lot going on,” says Barley. “We work with so many bars, restaurants, and food vendors because we like curating those food experiences. We recently started dabbling into a michelada program with our beer Lu, so we call it ‘micheluda.’ It’s like a Bloody Mary that we bring forward with beer instead of vodka.”

Guests can book a 90-minute stay in one of the domes for a party up to six via Tock, with purchases deducted from the $40 reservation fee. Domes are kept open in the fall, but come winter the closed domes are aired out and sanitized between parties.

While dining in a dome might have felt like a pandemic-era reach at one point—a desperate stab at normalcy that in practice felt anything but normal—the dome community seems to have transcended its temporary origin story to take its place as a sustainable Solemn Oath experience. In other words, it might just be the perfect place to ride one’s bike to for a few cold ones after another long day at the home office. 

Photos courtesy Solemn Oath