New York loves al fresco dining. This is how you keep the romance alive.


Last September, two huts the color of spaghetti sauce stood in the street bed of the West Village in front of the Italian-American restaurant Don Angie. Along the base of each was a strip of the same checkerboard linoleum that was used on the dining room floor. Each had three walls, perforated by large windows, the rounded corners of which were reminiscent of the restaurant facade. Private dining cubicles could be seen through the windows, separated by transparent floor-to-ceiling partitions.

At this point the Open restaurants The program, which gave thousands of restaurants quick clearance to set up tables on streets and sidewalks, was several months old. New Yorkers were used to seeing a first wave of dining areas on the street made up of traffic cones, sawhorses, planters, and other hardware stores. Don Angie’s cubicles were different. They were precursors to the second wave – carefully designed, built to survive the warm weather, and most importantly, aware of their responsibility to provide a moment of visual delight to the neighborhood dog walkers and cyclists in return for privilege, on public property to exist in the public eye.

Now, a third wave of roadside dining is on its way, and it is time New Yorkers thought about what to expect from restaurants when they put open-air dining rooms on our streets.

The city government is working on the complicated process of making open restaurants as well a sister program called Open Streets temporarily converts the road sections into car-free zones, permanently, after the mayoral emergency ordinance that allows it next year expires. Restaurants still have to follow regulations from the Department of Health, Department of Buildings, and other agencies, but the Department of Transportation’s new rules will set standards for alfresco dining. With the twin crises of Covid and the threat to a pillar of the city’s economy becoming less urgent, the city has a new rationale for tables and chairs taking up more than 8,000 parking spaces.

“We have the opportunity to make a lasting and positive change to the quality of life in New York City,” said Henry Gutman, the commissioner for the Department of Transportation who oversees open restaurants and other initiatives that have turned street parking spaces around believes the city will benefit more people come. “The program could have started as an emergency measure to rescue” restaurants, he said. “But what we learned is that New Yorkers like to dine outdoors.”

Making the city a more pleasant place to live and visit while protecting guests from the traffic is in some ways an easier bureaucratic task than fighting an airborne virus or keeping local businesses from financial ruin. But well thought-out regulations can ensure that the exuberant and life-affirming creativity of the past year continues; too strict could enforce a numbing equality.

Low or sliding fees and simple forms could help alfresco dining gain a foothold in areas where people have less money and less experience with red tape. These spaces could be limited to eating and drinking, or opened up for cultural, educational, or community activities. Business owners could use their streets and sidewalks to greet or isolate themselves from their neighbors.

The handover of power in the town hall, which will take place on January 1st, makes the road to permanence more difficult. There is no guarantee that the next administration will be as excited about Open Restaurants and Open Streets as the current one. Because alfresco dining is so popular with New Yorkers, not much has been discussed about its shape after the pandemic. Other issues, particularly crime and homelessness, are likely to dominate the campaigns through November. But the regulations that the next mayor signs will change street life in every corner of the city for years to come.

To encourage the kind of thoughtful designs and collaborations that make the city a more interesting place to live and visit, three nonprofit groups advocating better use of streets and other public spaces are holding a new competition. the Alfresco Awards. Registrations for the three $ 500 prizes to be awarded in July are still open.

“We want to highlight the beautiful and good designs and community partnerships that really fit safety and mobility on the roads,” said Kate Slevin, one of the organizers of the awards, senior vice president of the non-profit organization Regional plan association.

Don Angie’s checkerboard cabins designed by GRT architects, are in the running. There are also other structures that offer protection and a touch of the new to the street scene: a true-to-scale model of an antique passenger train car in front of the Hell’s Kitchen bar Dolly Varden; the shady Mediterranean pergola with grapevines and flowers in the West Village restaurant Casa La Femme; and the transparent box, which is delimited by a strip of blue light and appears to float above the sidewalk in front of the Egyptian NoHo restaurant Zooba.

Many of the designs are playful. Some transform the city into a green rainforest or a desert oasis. Some like the mural a volunteer group called the Neighborhood Curbside Canvas Project, organized for Square Diner in TriBeCa, is turning the miles of newly built walls and barriers across the city into artist installations.

Other street stalls have a message. Peach kitchen & bar, a southern town in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, has entered its Friendship Cabins, huts with walls made of thousands of interlocking clear plastic bottles. Each bottle is shorter than five inches, but the walls that make them up are tough enough to withstand winds of up to 170 mph. During the day they let in sunlight, at night they break the headlights and taillights of passing cars into kaleidoscopic patterns of red and white.

The Peaches booths are not only seating for six people each, but also an advertisement for an idea, said Josh Draper, who used them as an extension of his work as a researcher. designed Center for Architecture, Science and Ecology at the Polytechnic Institute Rensselaer. The supplies flown into areas hit by hurricanes or earthquakes typically include thousands of plastic water bottles. Once empty, they cause environmental havoc. But if the bottles had the interlocking design of Peaches’ bottles, Mr. Draper said, they could be instantly repurposed for the construction of shelters.

Ms. Slevin said her group and partners will be in the program after the Alfresco Awards Design Trust for the public space and the Three-state transport campaign, will create a series of design guidelines for affordable, durable and accessible street dining structures. The guidelines are offered to the transportation department and store owners. The groups also plan to award $ 10,000 in grants to help small businesses and community organizations take advantage of open restaurants and streets in parts of the city hardest hit by Covid.

Though street and sidewalk restaurants seem to be everywhere you are not. Open Restaurants has enabled nearly 12,000 restaurants and bars to operate outdoors, far more than the cumbersome pavement cafe approval process it has replaced. However, there are few outdoor venues in Staten Island, east Queens, and the Bronx, where fewer than 700 applications have been approved, the lowest total in the five boroughs.

in the a report last September, the state auditor’s office found that the Open Restaurants program had given more than half of all restaurants in several expanded areas of Manhattan the go-ahead to set up tables on the street or sidewalk. In three large parts of the Bronx, however, the rate was below 25 percent.

The regional plan association intends to get the city to fund groups and businesses that have previously not had access to Open Streets and Open Restaurants, Ms. Slevin said.

The Department of Transportation is already providing some financial support to local groups that run some Open Streets programs. As for the cash donation to restaurants, “I’m not sure that was being considered at the time,” said Mr Gutman, the Commissioner. “But helping them to make participation as easy as possible is clearly on our to-do list.”

Mr. Gutman called it “likely” that the city would begin charging for the use of streets and sidewalks. “But our focus will be on accessibility. So if a fee structure is actually put in place, it will be a priority that it does not become an obstacle for participants. “

Pre-existing barriers are addressed through a number of volunteer efforts. Since last March, Design advocates, a nonprofit group of approximately 250 architectural firms and individuals, has provided advice and assistance to help restaurants and community organizations deal with the pandemic and outdoor facility rules.

In some cases, they have worked with community development organizations to target abandoned neighborhoods and send design teams to support restaurants in the northwestern Bronx and Jackson Heights, Queens. Design Advocates’ most fascinating projects treat restaurants as more than isolated private companies.

Was a project in the Bronx an outdoor dining installation for Tropical Rotisserie, a Dominican-American takeaway chicken shop in Kingsbridge that has no indoor seating. The structure has been designed to be flexible so that it can serve as an open space for community groups.

Two artists, brothers Felix and Dexter Ciprian, “turned it into some kind of phantasmagoric expression of Dominican identity with painted wood, discarded shutters, plexiglass sections and paint,” said Michael K. Chen, a founder of Design Advocates. “There was also a digital projector and screen” to show images of the neighborhood, including foods and ingredients common to Asian and Latin American populations in the area.

The installation has since been removed, said Mr. Chen, “but this project started to open our eyes to some of the ways that alfresco dining could capture some of the value restaurants have for the people of the city.”

The idea of ​​outdoor restaurants as community centers also came to others. Playground cafe in Bedford-Stuyvesant used its Open Restaurants parking lots for the construction a greenhouse where neighborhood kids can dig, Planting and harvesting vegetables – essentially an off-label use for the Open Restaurants program.

“This is the really exciting thing about this time,” said Mr. Chen. “Even now, after a year, everything on the road is a prototype. There are really convincing solutions for the future of the road. “

Before the pandemic, almost all restaurants in New York operated entirely indoors. The big move to the public outdoor area requires a paradigm shift in the way the catering industry sees itself.

They are already proficient in creating private environments where paying customers are fortunate enough to be within their own four walls. Now they need to create environments where non-customers are lucky enough to be their neighbors.


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