Sidewalk dining continues into the summer

by Walt Maguire
Posted 6/3/21

The restrictions on indoor dining brought more sidewalk cafés to Chestnut Hill. No one is in a rush to see them go away.

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Sidewalk dining continues into the summer

Posted

The restrictions on indoor dining brought more sidewalk cafés to Chestnut Hill. No one is in a rush to see them go away.

A new bill codifies the sidewalk café permits issued as an emergency measure during the pandemic, when indoor dining was stopped as a protective measure. This will allow restaurants and bars in Philadelphia to apply for a new permit to continue outdoor seating through the summer and fall. On April 29, City Councilwoman Katherine Gilmore Richardson’s Bill 210135-AA  passed with no objection, co-sponsored by Councilmembers Bobby Henon and Allan Domb. Mayor Kenny signed it May 11.

Campbell’s Place, 8337 Germantown Ave., has operated outside since last summer, using part of the sidewalk and three parking spaces. “It’s been great for us and people really enjoy outside dining,” said Rob Mullen, manager and Executive Chef. Using the parking spaces allowed them to compensate for losing all inside seating for several months.

On the next block, Iron Hill Brewery had a wider sidewalk and a “No Parking” zone. “We’ve never had seating outside before,” said Assistant General Manager Shaun Sawyer. Iron Hill has tall windows they can slide open on temperate days to make the interior more of an open-air porch, but “some people aren’t ready to come back inside even now.” They plan to keep it going into the fall, as long as the weather permits. Sawyer said they might not continue in the “No Parking” space – they haven’t heard yet if it qualifies under the new regulations – but the sidewalk tables will stay. They’ve put away the space heaters in the basement and added five more tables and some umbrellas.

None of the Hill restaurants contacted said they expected to do outdoor seating year-round: May to December was the expectation, but it will largely depend on the weather.

 Philip Dawson, Executive Director of the Chestnut Hill Business District, said that the sidewalk café expansion was a necessary survival step, but it’s had a positive impact. “We would certainly want our businesses to benefit,” he said. There has been outdoor dining in Chestnut Hill for years – the porch at the Chestnut Hill Hotel, the patios at the Fare Market and El Poquito, tables outside Cosimo’s, All The Way Live Vegan, Mimi’s, Night Kitchen Bakery – but extending into the street was new in 2020. Like most of older Philadelphia neighborhoods, sidewalks are too narrow for outdoor seating, make the expansion into parking spots necessary. If this is to become a permanent summer change for the Hill, Dawson said, the CHBD would look into funding to assist the restaurants with upgrading the fencing and general look, since the original purpose was intended to be temporary, and makeshift.

Dawson also said there hadn’t been a noticeable impact on parking; Campbell’s is taking up three spaces, and McNally’s Tavern is taking two. “There have been no complaints about parking,” he said, noting both places were less than a block from community lots.

Just before the pandemic lockdown, McNally’s Tavern, 8634 Germantown Ave., was preparing to expand into the storefront next door. The tavern is long and narrow, with a bar in the front and a few tables in the back; the new space would more than double their seating. Instead, Anne McNally’s three sons put together a sidewalk café in two parking spaces, using railroad ties, scaffolding, and two of their inside tables. Paul Roller (Rollers Café) loaned them four additional tables, they bought some big flowerpots on sale at Robertsons, and Mary Costello, a horticulturalist in Wyndmoor, brought them some small trees. They added some lights as the days shortened in the fall. When the weather turned cold, one of their longtime customers, Mr. Fernberger, gave them an outdoor heater. They ended up with five; they only purchased one. They gave out free hats when it got really cold.

“It was a real community effort,” said Anne McNally. “People were so nice.” She noted that Philadelphia is generally a hard place for food services, with taxes and regulations, and then tighter pandemic safety regulations than the surrounding counties, but that “the city really stepped up.” McNally added that Hill restaurants worked together, assisting each other at times with outdoor seating arrangements. (When McNally’s had to dismantle their outdoor zone for a week while road crews worked on the cobblestones, they loaned the tables to the Mermaid Tavern.)  In addition to tables, Paul Roller occasionally offered other support. “Paul Roller has always had our back.”

All three establishments started by expressing their gratitude to loyal customers, both for giving them a chance to figure out how to keep going, and for continuing to come back. Now they hope to have a safe, and crowded, summer.

The new permit system also allows establishments to apply for live outdoor entertainment, subject to the usual local rules on noise and crowds. Right now, the Avenue restaurants are concentrating on bringing back diners.

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