VANCOUVER -- With more than 20 patios and nearly 500 seats, Vancouver's largest patio district opened Monday.

Gastown has seen a particular concentration of patios open up during the novel coronavirus pandemic, leading the neighbourhood to launch Patiotown, complemented by bike valets on Fridays and Saturday evenings and an outdoor gallery.

"There is a visible appetite for us to be able to enjoy good food, drink, art and entertainment with friends in a safe way after a long and challenging few months of distancing," said Walley Wargolet, with the Gastown Business Improvement Association, in a news release. 

"That's why we've worked with countless partners, members, and the city to bring Patiotown to life for Vancouverites."

The outdoor gallery, called the Murals of Gratitude Exhibition, honours health-care heroes through pieces near Carrall and Water streets. 

Dr. Bonnie Henry visited the exhibition last week and got a sneak peek of a mural with her image. 

"What started as a grassroots initiative quickly gained momentum and now, we're excited to invite the public to come check out the artworks that honour healthcare heroes, the resilience of our community, and the artists that brought light to an otherwise dark time," Wargolet said. 

Vancouver has been working to expedite patio permits to encourage outdoor dining to reduce the spread of COVID-19. 

On Friday, the city said more than 180 temporary patio permits have been approved in the first month since the program launched. Of those, 151 are public patios, while 31 are private. Another 28 are currently under review. 

And more patios could be coming in the city. After a public hearing last week, council voted in favour of allowing breweries, wineries and distilleries to also apply for temporary patios on private property. 

Permits for temporary patios on public property take two business days to be issued, the city says.