Over the past year, restaurateurs and diners alike have embraced outdoor dining — it’s a fixture of pandemic life that many are happy to see become a permanent part of our city landscape. Now, your favorite streetside spaces can get the recognition they deserve (and a boost to their business) via the Alfresco Awards, a new program that’s been dubbed “the Oscars of outdoor dining” by the Wall Street Journal

Dolly Varden on W51st Street between 8/9th Avenue has an innovative railroad carriage for outdoor dining. Photo: Phil O’Brien.

The Alfresco Awards are one part of a larger initative called Alfresco NYC, organized by a coalition of nonprofits, the Design Trust for Public Space, Regional Plan Association (RPA), and Tri-State Transportation Campaign. The competition will award $500 cash prizes and free publicity to the best outdoor dining spaces that demonstrate innovation in design and sustainability, promote community partnerships, and provide safe, accessible spaces for all patrons. 

The wider aim of the program is to develop a series of design guidelines for outdoor spaces to reference going forward and provide support for the city’s culinary scene as it rebounds after the pandemic. The project is funded by a $400,000 donation from the New York Community Trust.

An outdoor dining structure under construction on 9th Avenue in October 2020. Photo: Phil O’Brien.

Last month, it was revealed that around 8,500 parking spaces had been repurposed for outdoor dining setups. “In the midst of an unprecedented crisis, Open Streets and Outdoor Dining provided a desperately needed outlet for the resourcefulness, creativity and resilience of small businesses,” said Katie Schwab, a member of the board of the Design Trust for Public Space, in a press statement. ​“In the process, these programs demonstrated the potential of re-imagined streetscapes across diverse neighborhoods, uniting New Yorkers in recovery efforts.”

​“More than simply a place to move and store cars, they are a pathway to opportunity and a vibrant space for community,” added Danny Harris, executive director of Transportation Alternatives. “By recognizing street life, Alfresco NYC celebrates what’s possible in NYC, and demands more across our remaining 6,000 miles of streets.”

Outdoor Dining at EAK Ramen on Restaurant Row this winter. Photo: Phil O’Brien.

The application portal is now open for nominations and anyone can participate, restaurateurs can even nominate themselves. A jury of yet-to-be-announced experts will select the winners in early July. What HK spots are you nominating?

Join the Conversation


  1. Interesting that both cyclists in the photo are riding on the sidewalk (illegally), which doesn’t seem to even register for you. Of course that only affects pedestrians – and who cares about them, anyway? They clearly don’t warrant “safe, accessible spaces.” Perhaps an article about how pedestrians in Hell’s Kitchen are daily terrorized by cyclists and scooters might be a good “balancing act” in your newsletter?

    1. The cyclists are riding on W51st Street, legally. The open side of the indoor dining is on the sidewalk.

    2. Those cyclists are on the street. It has become harder to ride in NYC since many restaurants have taken over the bike lanes. That’s not their faults. It’s the fault of hasty or no planning by officials. But the cyclists you reference are clearly on the street outside Dolly Varden. Their sign faces out, not the sidewalk.

    3. Both cyclists are riding on the street in the correct direction, legally. If you knew anything about dolly vardens set up or that street, you would know better. I agree that cyclists should stay off the sidewalks and take better care to obey traffic laws, but get your facts right before you get on your high horse.

  2. I’ve been to Dolly Vardens. This is the street-facing side of their “streetery.” The cyclists are on the road riding in the direction of traffic. All legal!

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