Last October, Joe Klare and Andrew Bedinghaus were chatting in a group message about the effects of the pandemic. Mainly, they were expressing their concerns about the impact COVID-19 was having on the hospitality industry. With winter right around the corner, they were growing worried about what would happen to their favorite spots once outdoor dining was no longer a feasible option.
“We all love going to restaurants and bars,” Klare says. “We think they’re really important parts of our community.”
They were on a mission to come up with an effective solution: how to support local businesses through the frigid months, and how to do it safely. When someone in the group chat suggested that they could sit out in the snow, that sparked an idea. “I do that every winter when I go skiing, and I have no problem doing it,” Klare says.
He decided if he could do it then, he could do it in Cincinnati, too, and the Polar Dining Club was born. Klare and Bedinghaus, along with his cousin, Matt Terry, got to work. They started reaching out to restaurants—Jerry’s Jug House, The Blind Pig, Green House, Zazou—and bringing in groups of around 30 to 40 people for a unique dining experience.
The first stop that kicked off the Polar Dining Club was Rich’s Proper, a Covington eatery with a Southern Creole influence. During their time there, Bedinghaus recalls, one of the waitresses started tearing up. She said she didn’t know how she was going to buy Christmas presents, but the tips she got from the club members put that money in her pocket. “That’s when we were like, OK, we’re gonna keep this going,” he adds.
With the patio full of energy and bundled up customers, others who weren’t part of the club were attracted to Rich’s Proper that night, bringing in an even more successful evening. “Everyone was really just cool and respectful,” says Bill Whitlow, owner of Rich’s Proper. “Overall, I think they had a great time and we enjoyed having them in.”
Boosting not only business but morale, too, is something that they hope to inspire other Cincinnatians to do as well. And while PDC is growing with every event, that’s not the primary goal. “One of my takeaways from this is, I hope people see us and [think], Oh, you know what, I can support that restaurant,” Klare says.
Though some have offered them heaters or firepits, the Polar Dining Club doesn’t expect any fancy accommodations from the host restaurant. Part of the fun, the founders say, is the informality of it all. “Just come out and say ‘Hi,’ and see your friends for the first time in a while,” Klare says.
The club usually holds two events a month and tries to schedule for Wednesday nights, which are typically slower days for business. Their next stops for this month include dinner at Gordo’s Pub & Grill and drinks at Dana Gardens, both in Norwood, on Feb. 10.
Polar Dining Club is an experience that allows you to support restaurants in your neighborhood and have a good time doing it. “Yeah, your hamburger might get colder a little faster, but why not make some fun out of it?” Klare says.
Bedinghaus invites everyone to come out and join them, advising the more layers you can wear the better. “The beer stays cold,” he says. “It’s pretty nice.”