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Café du Soleil domes
Photograph: @rflnyc

An Upper West Side restaurant installed “space bubbles” for outdoor dining this fall

Café du Soleil installed 18 geodesic domes to help lure diners still wanting to dine outside.

Written by
Bao Ong

Restaurants are doing everything they can to extend the outdoor dining season even as businesses can soon open indoors at a limited capacity. Remember the igloo-like domes popping up everywhere last winter (including at Time Out Market New York)? They’re back.

This time, Café du Soleil on the Upper West Side has installed geodesic tents they’re calling “space bubbles.” The 18 structures, which stand seven-feet tall with seating for 2-6 people, are being used as a foil to colder temperatures, rain and wind. They’re called space bubbles as a whimsical play on the popular neighborhood restaurant’s French theme (soleil means sun) and shape of the domes.

“It’s been really hard. We had to reinvent ourselves," says Maxime Rousselot, one of Café du Soleil’s managing partners. “Even before dining could come back, we had to figure how to survive.”

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A few weeks ago, when the forecast called for rain nearly every day during the week, Rousselot tested out a trio of the domes and he says they were a hit with diners.

“You can pop in and pop out,” he says. “It’s like a camping tent that looks like a cap on the moon.”

At the time, the government hadn’t given the greenlight on indoor dining, so Rousselot wanted a way to extend al fresco dining a bit longer. When temperatures drop below 45 degrees, the restaurant plans to reconsider how long to keep the bubbles open (they can’t be heated inside because of the clear, plastic material).

The neighborhood spot opened in April 2005 and many people in the area have supported Café du Soliel since the current crisis hit, says Rousselot, including contributions to a GoFundMe campaign early on to help pay employees’ wages.

Café du Soleil seats about 80-88 guests outdoors, partly because of the wide sidewalks along Broadway. Popular menu items include a Provencal-style rotisserie chicken, grass-fed steak au poivre and a winter menu rolling out next week featuring a hearty cassoulet.

“To survive the winter is very complicated,” Rousselot says. “We’ll try to have them as long as possible.”

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