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Rethink Café
Photograph: Rethink Food

New Yorkers, brace yourselves for the arrival of the roadway cafe

Consider it a return to pre-pandemic-style dining.

Anna Rahmanan
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Anna Rahmanan
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The pandemic brought with it a flurry of changes to urban life as we know it. Among them: the arrival of a variety of creative outdoor dining structures.

Now, as the case numbers seem to (hopefully, finally!) be easing, city officials are trying to figure out ways to move forward while taking into account the needs of diners who wish to be safe and restaurants struggling to draw in patrons, in addition to the desires of cyclists bemoaning the absence of bike lanes and those of drivers complaining about the fact that sheds and huts have taken over parking spaces. 

ABC7 reports that, earlier this week, the New York City Council committee started debating a new bill that could potentially turn turn the various sheds into permanent fixtures. The shacks sprung up as part of the Open Restaurants program. Established in June 2020, when indoor dining shut down, the guidelines sought to aid endangered restaurants. 

Although no official decision has yet been made, word on the street is that the various structures will be a thing of the past.  

"We don't envision sheds in the permanent program," said Julie Schipper, New York City Department of Transportation (DOT) Director of Open Restaurants. "We are not planning for that. What would be in the roadway as barriers as tents or barriers, but not these full houses that you are seeing in the street. One of the main goals of this program is to really have [something] that can last for years and years. You had to eat outside in all weather [during COVID] but that won't be the case going forward. This program is really being planned for a post COVID scenario, where you can dine outside when that feels nice and comfortable but you won't need to be in a house on the street."

DOT Commissioner Ydanis Rodrigues went on to explain that officials will likely create licenses for sidewalk and roadway cafes that would require them "to comply with rules before they are built, subjecting them to inspection shortly after."

The roadway cafes would be reminiscent of the outdoor structures that came along with the Open Restaurants program—albeit on a smaller scale. Such destinations would take up a part of a parking lane or a curb lane in front of an eatery. Sidewalk cafes, on the other hand, would basically look like the outdoor dining destinations that peppered the city's culinary scene pre-pandemic: think outdoor tables at Cafe Mogador on St. Marks Place, for example. 

Put simply, those house-style "outdoor restaurants" that have taken over all of our streets will no longer be there. They would be replaced with a slew of tables that harken back to life before COVID—an idea that, to be honest, fills us with joy. 

We're sure other potential options will be explored before an official decision is made but it seems like the future of our city's gastronomical scene is in flux—and we can't wait to see what it will look like.

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