Crowds at Restaurants Show the Need For Open Space Now

The East Village on Friday night. Photo: EV Grieve
The East Village on Friday night. Photo: EV Grieve

No, really, don’t make him come down here, Mayor de Blasio — do something.

Crowds of customers hanging out outside restaurants and bars in the East Village on Friday night earned the ultimate warning from Gov. Cuomo on Saturday — a threat to step in to curtail all the socially undistanced gathering.

But restaurant industry insiders — who have been begging Mayor de Blasio to create more space for socially responsible dining — saw Cuomo’s threat as evidence of both the danger in not creating a way for New Yorkers do safely what they obviously want to do and the imperative to get the Phase 2 restaurant reopening started well before the “early July” promise that Mayor de Blasio made last week.

“The videos on the news and social media of outdoor dining and drinking sets our industry back,” said Andrew Rigie, executive director of the NYC Hospitality Alliance, which has been championing open streets for restaurants. Rigie cited the danger implicit in the Big Dog’s threat of having liquor licenses suspended or having state or city officials “postponing our reopening, which will keeping the crisis our industry is already in.”

But Rigie added that the videos show that government action — not a crackdown — is needed immediately.

“This pent-up demand demonstrates why our restaurants and bars need a lawful, regulated outdoor eating and drinking system now, and must be provided clear guidelines and expectations on when they can open outdoors and inside,” he said. “Dire times demand bold policies and swift action.”

Swift is not what is on Mayor de Blasio’s menu right now, however. Even though the second phase of the city’s reopening looks to be on pace for June 22, the mayor said he would not allow restaurants to join the fun — on open streets adjacent to their eateries — until “early July.” The delay stemmed from what they mayor once called his “badge of honor”: his deliberate style.

“It’s an abundance of caution,” the mayor told reporters on June 7. “We are not like the other regions of the state. We were the epicenter and remain the epicenter of this disease in this state. Our reopening is much more complex than any other part of the state. … According to the official chart of the state, it could be as little as two weeks until you get to Phase 2. But I want to keep expectations a little lower than that. … But think about the beginning of July as the target, I think that is a safer, smarter way to think about it.”

Or he could just move decisively, said Shabazz Stuart, founder of Oonee and a public space adviser to the restaurant industry.

“The crowding that we’re all seeing on major streets shows the need for a calibrated and thoughtful approach to streetscape management in the post-covid era,” said Stuart. “We need design guidelines and design solutions. I look forward to seeing the details soon.”