The Royale's Holly Jolly Courtyard Brings Safe Holiday Cheer to a COVID World

The Royale is spreading wintertime cheer with the Holly Jolly Courtyard and other holiday-themed offerings. - COMPLIMENTS OF THE ROYALE
The Royale is spreading wintertime cheer with the Holly Jolly Courtyard and other holiday-themed offerings.

When asked why he got into the bar business in the first place, Steven Fitzpatrick Smith of the Royale (3132 South Kingshighway Boulevard, 314-772-3600) does not hesitate with his answer.

"I'm in this business to bring people together," Smith says. "I can create products and put a bag of food in your trunk and never talk to you, but that's not why I got in the business. I definitely like people coming together and creating an environment for that. In-person is the way I like to do it and the reason people like our business, so I'm not going to pretend we are something we're not."

That realization — something he came to in the early weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic that has wreaked havoc on the food and beverage industry — is the inspiration behind the Royale Holly Jolly Courtyard, a wintry outdoor watering hole designed to give his guests a feeling of normalcy in decidedly abnormal times. The outdoor setup, which opened the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and runs through the first weekend of the new year, is a holiday-themed soundstage with eclectic decor, fire pits, outdoor heaters, s'mores kits, warm cocktails and more.

As Smith explains, the Holly Jolly Courtyard is especially festive, given the artistic force behind it. The decor was designed and built by Tara Phelan, a Royale employee who worked as a props artisan for the Opera Theater of Saint Louis. Knowing what a resource he had in Phelan, as well as her sister and fellow Royale employee Angela Moore, Smith gave her free rein to create the winter wonderland of her dreams.

"I've always gone to Tara's holiday parties and saw what she could do," Smith says. "So I asked her, 'Hey, can you do something like this in the courtyard?' I hired her for about a month to put it together. She didn't just go out to a store, buy a bunch of stuff and put it out; this is all handmade stuff and her taking the time to buy things and put them together."

Though Smith admits business has been tough, he's been heartened by the support he's continued to receive, something he credits to his fierce commitment to creating as safe an environment as possible. As evidence of his efforts, he points to some of his most loyal customers, a group of emergency room doctors and nurses from area hospitals, who have been regularly frequenting the courtyard after their shifts to unwind.

"I'm taking my cues from them," Smith says. "If we were just doing whatever and not taking precautions, people wouldn't be coming in, but we've been able to satisfy people by making them comfortable. If I'm getting actual medical professionals in the courtyard, I feel like I'm doing it the right way."

However, Smith understands there are many who want to support the Royale from their homes. To that end, he's also put together several holiday-themed goodies that are available on the Royale's online store. These include everything from bottles of the bar's signature eggnog, several varieties of bitters made from the Royale's herb garden, T-shirts, hot cocoa, and stockings and gift baskets filled with candied nuts, flasks and other essential bar items.

For those who choose to come to the Holly Jolly Courtyard, though, Smith promises a safe, festive experience — something he believes we could all use right now.

"Once I started hanging with doctors and realizing that we could stand outside and create this feeling of normalcy, I wanted to create it intentionally," Smith says. "People's spirits are more fierce now than ever. Having a meal when you are full is good, but having one when you are hungry is the best way to eat. Everything tastes better and you can feel yourself being re-nourished. The fact that we haven't been able to have this human need, and now we are able to recreate it outside — it's just very real."

We are always hungry for tips and feedback. Email the author at [email protected].

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About The Author

Cheryl Baehr

Cheryl Baehr is the restaurant critic for the Riverfront Times and an international woman of mystery. Follow her on the socials at @cherylabaehr
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