TRAVERSE CITY — The Little Fleet is taking its outdoor vibes year-round.
The downtown Traverse City bar, known in the summer for its slew of food truck options, now offers outdoor seating and a comfy space with a yurt.
“We have this huge parking lot we don’t really use in the off-season — it’s a great way to utilize some of that space,” said The Little Fleet Owner Gary Jonas. “And it’s really cozy.”
The new addition — which Jonas plans to bring back each winter — will stay up from November to March, when it's off-season for The Little Fleet’s food truck vendors.
It’s a replacement for a tent the bar once used in fall and spring — a good one, Jonas says.
“We were limited in what we could do with the tent, but we really liked the additional space — a place people can go out and get cozy,” he said.
A yurt — structures first used centuries ago by roaming Mongolian hunters as temporary shelters — proved a perfect solution.
The portable round tents, supported by a latticework frame of wooden pieces and an overhead ring, are mainly self-supporting and can vary in square-footage — some are as large as 1,500 square feet. Modern yurts, like the one at The Little Fleet, tend to stand on a wooden base.
“It opens opportunities for us to do lots of different events,” Jonas said.
Those include a recurring concert series called "Live in the Yurt," which seats about 50 people.
“It feels like you’re part of something special, because it’s so small and intimate. People want to be in there and hear music,” Jonas said, noting that before the yurt, The Little Fleet had to host musicians in its indoor bar space, limiting seating and space for guests.
Also coming up are dinners and a holiday party and market, and people are welcome to rent out the yurt for private events.
The goal is to craft a chill vibe — yurt-goers are encouraged to sit, not stand, and low-key music fills the space. Instead of barstools and tables, couches, chairs and low tables provide seating. Heaters keep the space toasty, and people can order drinks at a separate bar inside the yurt on weekends.
An acrylic dome overhead offers a view of the clouds — and occasionally stars — above.
“It’s just a different vibe — everyone is welcome to go in and enjoy it,” Jonas said. “And the structure is so unique. People will walk by and see it and poke their heads in.”
Yurts are popular for their set-up and take-down ease, and prove more sturdy than outdoor tents, said Steve Caro, owner of Great Lakes Yurt Co., based near Ann Arbor.
“It’s an insulated structure that can handle wind and snow loads,” said Caro, who’s been in business for about three years.
He and Jonas worked together to bring the idea of a yurt at The Little Fleet to reality, and Caro said he often works with campgrounds, music festivals and private spaces as well.
They’re an increasingly popular choice for public spaces and bars, too, he added. Caro said The Little Fleet is one of few Michigan bars to rig one up, though Great Lakes Yurt Co. works throughout the country.
He hopes The Little Fleet’s example spreads the trend in northern Michigan.
“We’re really starting to see more of them,” he said. “I think they’re a great use of space, especially in the wintertime — and even in summer.”
The Little Fleet yurt is open daily. Upcoming events include Soup and Bread from 6-8 p.m. Dec. 10, a holiday market from 1-6 p.m. Dec. 15 and a "Live in the Yurt" show by Breathe Owl Breathe from 7-10 p.m. Dec. 22.
“It’s been so well-received so far,” Jonas said. “It’s just really neat.”