NYC’s Outdoor Dining Situation Is Wild Right Now

Alternate side dining now in full effect.

Boucherie | Matthew Kelly
Boucherie | Matthew Kelly

The COVID-19 pandemic crippled NYC’s restaurant industry perhaps more than any other, shuttering in-house dining for the foreseeable future and leaving operators scrambling to pivot to delivery/takeout models that many had never offered before.
After months of takeout only, Phase 2 of reopening arrived in late June, which brought an entirely new challenge/opportunity for restaurants. Outdoor dining would be allowed but with it came a slew of rules and restrictions. That meant custom-built dividers, patio-style fencing, and turning streets and parking lanes into fully operational dining room turf on the fly.

The result? NYC’s sidewalks are suddenly full again, with some stretches closed down completely on weekends thanks to a program called Open Streets. Overnight, the Big Apple started to look a whole lot like Europe.

But outdoor dining isn’t without its complications. First, the construction is costly and labor-intensive for owners, and it’s created a run on raw materials with every operator building out at once. According to Gertie GM Flip Biddleman, “When you go to the big-box home improvement stores right now, they are all running low on materials, and jam-packed at all hours of the day with customers. It feels like the entire city is working on construction projects.” 

Then, suddenly, rules changed shortly after 4th of July weekend, with a new city mandate to make dining barriers 18 inches thick. Shuka owner Vicki Freeman tells us, “We built up our outside area and then the rules changed. We had to go back and redesign them after being served with a summons.”

Beyond the cost and effort that goes into such an undertaking, the prospect of outdoor dining is still fraught for both restaurant employees and patrons, especially in a town where separating tables by six feet with limited available sidewalk seems logistically impossible. Some restaurateurs aren’t willing to put their employees at risk by reopening. And diners, depending on who you ask, are split on wanting to go to restaurants IRL at all, with no vaccine and rising numbers just outside of NY State. 

Regardless of where you stand, today we're taking a second to document this truly bizarre moment in NYC dining history in photos: You’ll witness Katz’s Deli take over Ludlow Street with outdoor dining for the first time in its 130-year history, East and West Village brunchers separated by wooden and plexiglass dividers, and Williamsburg and LES streets entirely shut down and looking like European piazzas filled with chairs, tables and plants. In short, dining out in NYC is just wild right now. Take a look.

The Bronx

Courtesy of Beatstro

The South Bronx cafe which pays homage to the borough being the birthplace of hip-hop, had custom barriers made and then adorned with murals by artist Andre Trenier. The custom art features portraits of female hip-hop performers, primarily to address the lack of women in the art inside the space when it was originally painted. According to owner Alfredo Angueira, “We wanted to mirror as closely as possible the art inside our space while addressing anything we may have missed the first time around. This is the reason all the illustrations are of women in hip-hop.”

Lower East Side/Chinatown

Katz's Deli
Katz's Deli | Matthew Kelly

Katz’s Deli
For the first time in its 132-year history, Katz’s Deli took over Ludlow Street with its custom-built outdoor patio. 

Nom Wah Tea Parlor
Nom Wah Tea Parlor | Matthew Kelly

Nom Wah Tea Parlor
The 100-year-old classic Chinatown staple is dabbling in outdoor dining, shutting down the very unique alcove of a street that is Doyers with street-side tables. Neighboring spot Peachy’s is about to follow suit starting this weekend.

The Village/Soho

Petite Boucherie
Petite Boucherie | Matthew Kelly

Boucherie/Petite Boucherie and Olio E Più
One of the most striking build-outs are the custom branded five-foot-high dividers found at the sibling Village restaurants. Designed by Julien Legeard of The Prestige Group and made by Interior Palace in Brooklyn, the team had a month or so for fabrication as well as to source plexiglass (in short supply during the pandemic) and get the wood branded dividers made in time for Phase 2 reopening. 

AVEC table outside of White Horse Tavern
AVEC table outside of White Horse Tavern | Courtesy of AVEC

AVEC Table
This roving pop-up table from the namesake beverage brand, designed by Black entrepreneur Dee Charlemagne, has been popping up all over town including at the now-shuttered White Horse Tavern and the PDA 4th of July block party in Williamsburg which went down over the past weekend.

Courtesy of Wayan

The SoHo French-Indonesian spot from husband-and-wife team Cedric and Ochi Vongerichten created a lush outdoor setup complete with plants and wooden tables and chairs. Using Re-ply, a company that has been up-cycling plywood used to board up windows during the protests of early June, the company fashioned all the tables and chairs for the sidewalk cafe. 

Courtesy of Joyface

The East Village bar has set up a “sidewalk backyard” of sorts right on Avenue C complete with string lights, fake grass, and lawn chairs.

Courtesy of Shuka

The popular SoHo spot inspired by the flavors of the Middle East built an expanded patio that spills into the streets and looks something like a catwalk complete with exotic plants on each side. Owner Vicki Freeman shares some of the highs and lows of the process: “In some ways it’s been fun trying to figure out how to build a new restaurant outside, ie how can we maintain the feel of the restaurant. But it has also been frustrating and expensive as well.” Freeman unfortunately had to redo the outdoor construction after the July 4th change of policy by the city.

Aunt Jake's West Village
Aunt Jake's West Village | Matthew Kelly
Westville East Village
Westville East Village | Matthew Kelly


Cafeteria | Kelly Dobkin

Dinner in the bike lane, anyone? The Chelsea mainstay has added additional outdoor seating sandwiched between the bike lane and street parking in the middle of 7th Avenue.

Cote | Kelly Dobkin

The elevated Korean BBQ spot known for frose slushies and wagyu meat options has pivoted to an outdoor bar model, with food/meal kits available in to-go containers. The custom tables were also built from plywood used to protect the restaurant windows during the early June protests, constructed by the restaurant's in-house handyman.


La Superior
La Superior | Matthew Kelly
Dokebi | Matthew Kelly
Birds of a Feather
Birds of a Feather | Matthew Kelly
Gertie | Nate Zack

The popular all-day cafe in Williamsburg constructed a Summer Shack concept featuring beach chairs and small tables. According to GM Flip Biddleman, “We enlisted our wine director's uncle to build our outdoor furniture, which took about four days to construct -- custom barriers and the beginnings of a canopy -- but this was also not without hurdles as the city changed their guidelines multiple times without warning.“

casa ora
Courtesy of Casa Ora

Casa Ora
The Venezuelan eatery scrambled to create an outdoor dining barrier, built by owner Ivo Diaz himself.

Maracuja Bar
Maracuja Bar | Matthew Kelly

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Kelly Dobkin is an editor at Thrillist and she used to wait tables at a mostly outdoor restaurant. She can’t believe this shit.