December’s a funny time to be dining outdoors. But with indoor dining shuttered in NYC for the foreseeable future, outdoors is the only option, and if we’re going to do it, we’re going to do it right. Which in this case meant a visit to the Michelin-recognized temple of Asian fusion cuisine, Hortus, and their second-floor outdoor patio.

Open to the elements all summer long, the patio got covered for the winter just one day before we came. But it’s still a well-ventilated outdoor space, with open panels to let in air and giant kerosene heaters gushing flame to keep the clientele warm. And we are definitely the sort of clientele that needs keeping warm.

Which meant much gathering around the heaters, leading to photos like these, which suggest a coven at work more than some hungry folk simply gathering for a holiday meal.

What we wound up summoning wasn’t a demon but nearly as sinful: oysters, ribeye, salmon, truffles, pumpkin soup, green tea, hot sake. We got to find out which of our members had never tasted an oyster before and witness their first time.

The restaurant was kind to make allowances for us — not only allowing us to dine topless (or as close to topless as the near-freezing outdoor weather would permit)…

…but accommodating one or two other unusual requests as well. These are unusual times and it’s the places that demonstrate some flexibility that will see a group like ours coming by.

We had books on hand from our friends at Hard Case Crime as a little Christmas treat, including an early peek at Stephen King’s new novel, Later, and an even earlier advance copy of a book called Five Decembers (so early that the back cover and spine were blank!).

We welcomed a first-timer or two, as we always like to–

–and a second-timer–

–and of course some dear friends of long standing.

Normally this time of year we might have treated ourselves to a spa day…

…but with Covid still rampaging, anything as enclosed as a sauna or steam room just felt too risky. The very intimacy and closeness that makes the spa so wonderful argued against it this year. But intimacy comes in many forms, as does closeness, and freedom, and we enjoyed all of the above — and a great meal besides.

We urge you to patronize your favorite local restaurants as best you can in this difficult time — they need you. And remember that your friends need you too.

Merry Christmas, all — and here’s to health, happiness, love and friendship in the new year.