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Can you remember a New York that existed before outdoor dining? Yes, there were the occasional seasonal sidewalk cafés, but in a world where a night out means braving freezing temperatures, rats and the potential threat of a car crashing into your dinner, there is a definitive Before and After to the New York restaurant scene. Howver, as Resy has revealed, there is no definitive name for dining outside: in fact there are 113.
Terms used on the reservation app for outdoor seating range from the routine (outside seating), the descriptive (heated outdoors) and the geographical (west terrace), to the optimistic (patio sidewalk), the aspirational (heated verandah and heated chalet), and the poetic (fern garden, anyone?). The figure was revealed in a new report in New York Magazine, which detailed the ups and downs of the dining sheds that dot the city. W42ST reached out to Resy for a complete list of the 113 names and will share it when we hear back.
Of course, some structures in Hell’s Kitchen deserve names reflecting their ambition: like the Dolly Varden train car on W51st Street or the elaborate 9th Avenue floral archway at VIV Thai which became popular pandemic meetup spots, with a design and dining room experience enchanting enough to forget about the troubles of the world outside.
The plethora of names reflects the explosion in outdoor dining, and the challenges of ever-changing regulations — and Wild West approach to obeying them — is on display in virtually every block in Hell’s Kitchen.
First there was the outdoor boom of 2020. As CDC regulations slowly determined a significant discrepancy between the risks of eating indoors and outside, restaurants turned for help to the new Permanent Outdoor Dining Program, designed by the de Blasio administration and the Department of Transportation (DOT) to include far fewer bureaucratic barriers than the city’s previous Sidewalk Café licenses. First came tables and chairs on the road, followed by some kind of cover from the weather.
According to New York Magazine, which uncovered the 113-strong list of names in a report on more than three years of outdoor dining: “In the first 24 hours of the program, 1,950 restaurants self-certified, immediately clearing them for open-air service. And once the structures were up, the DOT was intentionally lenient with violators.”
In Hell’s Kitchen, 9th Avenue soon became dominated by large dining structures, some adhering to or far surpassing the DOT’s loose regulations, while others appeared to be constructed out of glue and panic. Restaurateurs told W42ST that they had spent thousands on the structures, partly in hopes of attracting customers willing to brave the elements for a night out.
But even for sheds that were beautiful and well-built there was a new and unsettling nemesis — errant cars. The Atlas Social Club joined the fraternity of citywide run-over dining sheds when its outdoor seating area was plowed into by a runway, driverless truck (no one was injured and the bar was able to repair the shed). For others like Pat Hughes of Scruffy Duffy’s, the structure of the dining shed seemed to invite more rodent than human patrons while others like Casellula struggled to negotiate with unhoused New Yorkers taking over their structures altogether.
And for those who stuck it out on 9th Avenue, the summer’s water main and expanded sidewalk construction project meant the unceremonious removal of dozens of dining sheds, with mixed reaction from the Hell’s Kitchen community. “The sidewalk width on 9th is not wide enough to safely accommodate these structures. It is impeding accessibility and makes me avoid walking along 9th Avenue entirely,” said one reader, as others argued the sheds livened up the avenue and vitally supported their favorite local businesses.
But while the exact fate of the dining shed remains to be seen, the Adams administration has reaffirmed its commitment to establishing an (as of yet) unidentified permanent regulation program, intended to keep the benefits of well-made structures and crack down on haphazard (and hazardous) cafés. “New Yorkers have a lot of different opinions…but I want to say, loud and clear,” said the Mayor. “Outdoor dining is here to stay — and we’re going to make sure while it’s here that we get it right.”
READ MORE ABOUT DINING OUTSIDE (AND IN) IN HELL’S KITCHEN
Perhaps one decree in the forthcoming program will be an official name for the structures, which have been called everything from the charming “streetery” to the utilitarian “dining shed”. As New York Magazine identified, “Booking on Resy, sight unseen, is pure chaos. In one recent period, according to the company, restaurants described their outdoor tables with 113 unique names, including heated chalet, veranda outdoor (where else would it be?), and fern garden.”
Local restaurateurs were equally flummoxed, with many stating that in the panic of reopening they hadn’t named the seating areas at all. Others told us that they felt it was time to pandemic pivot away from the idea altogether. “We destroyed the shed,” said Daniele of Etcetera Etcetera. “Dirty, loud, too many mice.”
But as new COVID cases threaten another potential winter surge, some New Yorkers may still seek out the simple pleasures of a night dining outside by a space heater over the alternatives. And while we may not have settled on an official name or standard of regulation quite yet, it appears that Hell’s Kitchen — and New York — will be home to the strange new world of dining sheds for the foreseeable future.
Outdoors, indoors, or in a fern garden, W42ST has your definitive guide to where to dine in Hell’s Kitchen. Download our W42ST Local App.