When the Covid-19 pandemic restricted indoor dining, New York City restaurants took to the streets — literally.
“Streeteries” — temporary outdoor seating areas that extend into street parking spaces and sidewalks — have become vibrant staples on NYC streets. At the start of the pandemic, these structures were rudimentary, their boundaries defined by beer kegs and makeshift seating. But as months passed, some restaurants have leaned into the outdoor dining norm to make spaces that feel more permanent and welcoming.
Today, many outdoor areas are enclosed by inexpensive but aesthetically-pleasing features such as wooden fencing, planters, and greenery. These spaces typically include seating and bike racks but can also encompass tables, games, and artwork.
In July of 2020, Curbed’s Diana Budds took a bike tour around Brooklyn and found a kaleidoscope of unique decorating styles and creative arrangements. She described her findings for the magazine, writing:
On Smith Street in Cobble Hill, a block of adjacent restaurants all appeared to have worked with the same builder — all of them had trellises topped with a few potted plants which made their outdoor spaces feel like gardens. Brooklyn Pizza Market made their barriers unique by repurposing tomato cans into planters. Xochitl Taqueria painted their plywood enclosure a buttery yellow. On Fifth Avenue, one restaurant painted its barriers white and decorated them with cascading flowers and vines — cottagecore in the wild. I also really enjoyed the Barragan-esque bright pink Cubana Cafe used for their outdoor area. Café Grumpy, a coffee shop on Seventh Avenue in Park Slope, used shipping pallets to enclose their seating area.
Of her explorations, she concluded: “These improvised spaces offer refreshing breaks from the relentless blandmarks (sic) and towering luxury condos that have defined the city’s new architecture for the past few years.”
These features seem like a silver lining amid the pandemic — an opportunity to refresh New York’s urban landscape with greater vibrancy and architectural flair. They also appear to be entrenching into greater permanency; according to another Curbed report, at least one construction company in the city has pivoted to focus almost exclusively on building streeteries once the demand for office construction all but disappeared.
Of course, one could argue that these temporary outdoor havens are by nature temporary and will disappear once the need for social distancing has passed. Eating outdoors in cold weather, after all, isn’t most customers’ preferred dining experience. However, it’s difficult to believe that these structures will disappear entirely now that restaurant owners have had the opportunity to recognize their potential as attractive gathering-spaces.
“The beauty of streeteries lies in the fact that they are flexible; they can be permanent, semi-permanent, or seasonal,” Evan Goldin explained for the National Association of Realtors. “They can work in spaces of any shape and size. In addition, they can feature moveable furniture and planters that can be easily removed or replaced. It is precisely this adaptability […] that makes them so popular.”
Streeteries have been necessary, yes — but they also created welcoming atmospheres for countless restaurants under stress and provided vibrancy and cheer in a time when New Yorkers needed both the most. These structures may have started as temporary fixes, but it’s certainly worth hoping that the brightness they provide will remain on a more permanent basis.