At 5am on Thursday morning, New York City suspended outdoor dining yet again.
The alert had come directly into the inboxes of restaurant owners around the city and it had been at least the fourth time the city was notifying restaurants about changes to the already byzantine stream of outdoor dining regulations in response to the changing weather conditions. The first had been in response to the 50 miles per hour gusts of wind that struck dramatically last November and the next three times had been at the onset of another snowstorm. This one, some would say, was not so bad. Only ‘roadway’ dining operations and not sidewalk ones, a curious distinction. But some restaurateurs are sick of it.
“Having to close because of the snow yesterday seemed to be pointless,” Michael Lombardozi, who owns the Dromedary Bar on Irving Avenue, told Bushwick Daily the day after.
The response from restaurants in the neighborhood was disparate. Mama Fox in Bed-Stuy, whose outdoor seating earned it plaudits for its use of the “ample sidewalk space” outside had announced that morning that it was preemptively closing for the staff’s own safety. Birdy’s, in Bushwick, celebratorily likened their outdoor tables to a ski lounge. Other restaurants could be seen wiping the snow off their roadway arrangements and covertly making it work for whatever crowds were willing to brave the news inches of snow that had suddenly returned.
Dromedary had eventually decided to remain open, Lombardozi said. It’s outdoor constellation of COVID-safe cubicles remained unused by city orders but, at the newly legalized 25% capacity, the urban tiki destination could fit about 18 people. Nonetheless, the maze of conflicting regulations had kept most of them away.
“People don’t know which bars are open right now or which ones are open outside. For them to trek out just to find out that you’re not allowed to be seated, people don’t want to do that,” Lombardozi said.
Because they weren’t coming to him, Lombardozi had spent all of the last night driving Dromedary’s brand of quaint and colorful bar food directly to the customers themselves. Planning around the tempermentiaity of new dining regulations remained impossible and Lombardozi was forced to largely improvise.
“Since March, I’ve been doing five employee’s jobs throughout the day,” he mused.
He wishes the city would do something to create consistent outdoor dining options that could prove both virus-safe and weather-safe. Instead, the city and state government seem to be trying, instead, to move slowly away from the very institution of outdoor dining it had so busily established last summer.
Less than a day after the city had temporarily shuttered outdoor dining, the state announced that restaurants would be allowed to now operate at 35% capacity, starting February 26. Governor Cuomo touted the move as similar to the capacity at which restaurants were now operating in the state of New Jersey, but it was still nowhere near the 50% that a collection of bars and restaurants are currently demanding in court.
Top photo credit: Andrew Karpan
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