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Greenhouses at the Darling
Photograph: Jason Cook

Dine and drink in a private greenhouse at this West Loop restaurant

This socially distanced dining solution is taking over Randolph Street.

By
Morgan Olsen
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Restaurant owners around the world have had to get creative with socially distanced dining as they cautiously reopen to the public. Sophie Huterstein, the owner of The Darling in the West Loop, found inspiration more than 4,000 miles away in Amsterdam, where celebrated eatery Mediamatic reopened with miniature greenhouses primed for private dining.

"It made headlines everywhere from CNN to BBC, but I was so inspired by the following sentiments in this report from the BBC that I realized that when we reopened not only was I under a moral obligation to protect my staff but also find a way to bring a 'night out' back to those guests who are not comfortable being around large groups of people until a vaccine is found," Huterstein wrote in an email.

When she found out that Randolph Street would be participating in the city's Open Streets program, Huterstein ordered the few remaining greenhouses she could find online. Dubbed the Rose Garden, The Darling's outdoor space is dotted with 10 greenhouses that each seat two to four guests. The setup is entirely contactless, and Huterstein has enlisted Chicago-based booking service Tock to help make the ordering process seamless. Guests use their phones to view the menu, which boasts a lineup of craft cocktails available by the glass or pitcher as well as wine and beer buckets. The English Rose is an easy summertime standout, with prosecco, vodka, elderflower syrup, muddled mint and lime.

The food menu includes sharable snacks and a collaboration sandwich with neighbor J.P. Graziano Grocery, which is stacked with smoked salmon, basil-caper cream cheese, cucumbers, red onions, arugula and truffle vinaigrette. For dessert, there's Aperol spritz sorbet or chocolate mousse with Bailey's whipped cream and whiskey caramel.

Huterstein says every inch of the greenhouses is sanitized between seatings and at the end of the night, a cleaning crew sprays down each structure and the furniture inside with sanitizing solution for a more thorough cleaning. "I'm sure it would be more profitable to line the street with picnic benches, and I know a lot of people think I'm nuts, but this was the safest way I felt I could do outdoor business, particularly in light of how many pedestrians refuse to wear masks around the area," she says.

A $10 deposit per person reserves your greenhouse at the Darling's Rose Garden, and seating is available Friday through Sunday. Take a closer look at the menu below and start plotting out your order.

darling menu
Courtesy The Darling

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