By Seth Daniel
Most of this winter has been bone-chilling cold, and on those nights, many restaurateurs find that having a fireplace is a make or break feature to draw clientele into their dining rooms.
It’s almost magnetic, they said.
That was just the case a few weeks ago this month at Post 390 in the Back Bay when the temperatures had been below freezing for more than 10 days. On one of the coldest and windiest corners in the City, Post was getting diners piling in and everyone had the same question.
“Do you have a seat by the fire?” laughed Richard Enderlin, general manager of Post 390 – which features a huge, centerpiece fireplace in its bar area that is meant to be visible from the street.
“During the real cold snap, but really all winter, I can’t tell you how many people have asked if we have a table by the fire, and luckily we have three fireplaces,” he said. “It really invites people in. It’s like a magnet. A fire offers a sense of comfort – of home – and that’s what people want when they dine. They want that comfort and sense of a family gathering. Seeing the fire is a natural draw, and we notice it – especially in the winter.”
Another venue in the Back Bay that capitalizes on its fireplaces is Grill 23, and Susan Earabino said their dining room fireplaces and their private room fireplace are real attractions in the winter.
“People feel more relaxed when they walk in and see the fire,” she said. “It’s very visual. They gravitate to it. When they see it, they go to it. At Grill 23, they have really been a draw, especially when it’s cold. In our private dining room, it really is a big attraction. too, because we set up a long table, and there’s a big fireplace at the end. Somehow, it makes it a more cozy atmosphere to dine in. Even on a really cold day in January, to have a fireplace in the restaurant gives more warmth and provides the crackling sound from the wood.”
Enderlin said it’s almost a subliminal thing, something that goes way back to days of old. And somehow, that translates to having a meal today.
“If you think about it, gathering around a fire goes back to the beginning of time,” he said. “That’s where the community came to gather. That’s where they cooked and made decisions. You even have bonfires on a beach. People are just drawn to it.”
Many times, creating that warmth is a major decision when renovating or building a restaurant in Boston. With so many cold days starting in the fall and through the winter and spring – a fireplace is a design decision that comes with a cost, but also yields an unwritten gain in terms of atmosphere.
In the North End, Antico Forno and Terramia Ristorante owner Carla Gomes said they went with a large centerpiece fireplace at Antico during a 2008 renovation. She does not regret the decision.
“Having a fireplace in Antico creates an atmosphere of warmth, not just by simply providing heat but also in the coziness of it,” she said. “When we decided to do the Italian brick arches in the restaurant in the remodeling back in 2008, we also thought it would help create a cozy atmosphere with the expansion. It is positioned in the only place that would have complimented the design and its used as a supporting wall between both sides of the restaurant. Guests love sitting in front of it.”
Earabino said at Grill 23 and other restaurants in the company’s group, having a fireplace comes down to a decision within the design phase.
“It’s one of many decisions that factor in to the design of a restaurant,” she said. “In New England, we have the advantage of have a fireplace that can be used much of the year. It is an advantage in our mind over a restaurant that doesn’t have one…At Grill 23, it’s more traditional. In the end, it depends on the restaurant and the feel and theme you want to convey.”
Jonathan Riccobono, director of sales at the Barking Crab in Fort Point, said their wood stove is more than a feeling, it’s a necessity. While they are mostly known as an outdoor seafood place that is a destination in the summer, their wood stove actually drives business their way in the winter – and provides about 40 percent of the heat to the building.
“As we’re well known as a destination for summer and seafood, having the fire through the winter months helps to drive business in the colder months, as most New Englanders want outdoor options in the warmer months and warmth/coziness in the winter,” he said. “We go through roughly 30 coils a week to keep it going, which is quite a bit of wood. The design aspect really sets the tone for the coziness and intimate environment we’ve set out to create in the space, as it also serves as a central focal point for all guests during their experience.”
And fires aren’t just reserved for the dining room, says Post 390 Executive Chef Nick Deutmeyer – who said he takes some inspiration from their landmark fireplace when he draws up new menu offerings in the winter.
“When I’m writing menus, I definitely use it as inspiration for the food we’re making,” he said. “Right now, the foods are braised – things that would be thought of as being cooked on a fire. I’ve even downloaded some images of fires as I write menus. It really sets the rustic mood that we’re going for in this season.”