As COVID-19 – and the restrictions associated with it – lingers through the winter, one of the issues plaguing bars and eateries is the diminished indoor seating capacity. The Union Social House, however, has a strategy for increasing the number of people it can seat under its roof: Build more roofs.
Under Colorado’s Level Orange restrictions, indoor dining at restaurants is limited to 25% capacity or 50 people, whichever is fewer. For The Union, that sets the cap at 22 people – a far cry from the crowds it was drawing after it opened in December 2019, said Carol Clark, owner of the north Main Avenue establishment that is also home to one of Backcountry Gourmet’s food trucks.
To supplement its capacity the business had to find a way to send customers outside while keeping parties socially distanced but without subjecting them to potentially frigid temperatures. The answer was greenhouses.
“I think people are itching to come out, but they have to feel like it’s a good place for them to do that. And so what we decided to do was give them the opportunity to come out in their own bubble – their own party and their own friends and their own family – but they can still come do stuff and feel a lot more confident than being in a room with 50 people inside of a bar,” Clark said.
In theory, the greenhouses – and seating around a gas fireplace the business is installing – can expand The Union Social House’s capacity by about 50 seats. Clark doesn’t expect to see that many people there at any one time, though, and isn’t looking to host an uncomfortably large number of people, she said.
The houses can be reserved through a system on the business’ website. They come in two sizes. The small ones sit two to four people, the large ones six to 10. There is no surcharge for reserving a house, but doing so puts a hold of $25 or $45, depending on size, on the card one uses to reserve it. The hold also becomes the minimum bar charge for the party.
“For example, you can’t reserve it for two people and have one Coors Light because we could have reserved that for more people in a different party,” Clark said.
The houses are furnished with couches, tables, chairs and décor matching a variety of themes. As with the furnishings inside its main building, most of the furniture in the houses are from auctions and people selling them second-hand.
“The Durango online garage sale is our best friend,” she said in reference to the popular local Facebook group. “I’d say 90% in the interior building and out there is reclaimed product, which makes it kind of fun because it makes it unique. No room is the same.”
In addition to lounge furniture, the houses have heaters and speaker systems that customers can tie their cellphones into to play music.
Clark said The Union is also looking to work with local business that can sponsor individual houses. The houses will bear the names of the sponsors on the sides and be mentioned in The Union’s marketing.
“Grants are awesome – feds, state, city, county – all of it is awesome. It’s beautiful, it helps us, but it doesn’t pay our bills,” she said. “We have a lot of people that have said to us like we want to help. And so this is a method for us to come up with. OK, thank you. That’d be awesome. And here’s a way you can help.”
In addition to the greenhouse program, the business is raising capital by selling “Union Memberships.” For $150, customers get perks including a flask, playing cards, a T-shirt, happy hour prices any time and a members-only party (once The Union can host large parties again). A $1,000 family option also comes with a link from The Union’s website to the member’s and the right to craft and brand a drink on the bar’s menu.
The Union Social House is open from 4 to 10 p.m. Tuesday to Friday, 2 to 10 p.m. Saturday and 2 to 8 p.m. Sunday. It is located at 3062 Main Ave. in Durango.