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New Yorkers will not be dining under the glow of propane heaters this fall and winter. The decision to ban the use of propane at restaurants, first reported by Crain’s New York, is seen as a fire-safety measure — even though no fires were reported last year as a result of outdoor dining.

Propane heaters were used for outdoor dining at Taboon last fall. Photo: Phil O’Brien

The city is hoping to warm up the news for restaurants with a $5,000 grant to help owners move to natural gas or electric heaters. “We want Open Restaurants to be a permanent part of New York City’s landscape and the most important step we can take is keeping diners and staff safe,” said Mitch Schwartz, a spokesperson for Mayor Bill de Blasio.

The use of propane to heat outdoor dining areas was allowed as an emergency measure during the pandemic. The executive order making it legal expired at the end of May this year and since then, bar and restaurant owners have been unsure of what would happen — until this decision.

Al Fresco dining at West Bank Cafe during the warmer months. Photo: Phil O’Brien

Steve Olsen, the owner of West Bank Cafe on W42nd Street, told us: “Wow! We probably don’t have enough spare electricity to add electric heaters and, I’d bet, a lot of other restaurants won’t be able to use electric heaters for the same reason. We have 400 amps in our restaurant and most of it is already used. The rules change every day. I believe it’s going to be an extremely difficult winter for restaurants.”

Local eateries continue to deal with uncertainty around outdoor dining. Patch reported this week about a group of Manhattan residents, including two from Hell’s Kitchen, who are suing to block permanent outdoor dining. Also, Eater said that Mayor de Blasio will tear down any unused dining structures found in the next couple of days.

Esca were heavy users of propane heaters on their patio before being forced to close in March this year. Photo: Phil O’Brien

“We had to pull our propane heaters last winter or we would have been fined,” said Jacqui Squatriglia, the owner of Flaming Saddles Saloon on 9th Avenue. “We also tried electric heat and that knocked out the power so that didn’t work for us either. The outside is slower the colder it gets… It could be a long, cold winter with no income from outside.”

Restaurants will have some time to make the changes, as enforcement will not start until January 1 next year. Business owners are being advised to check for more information at the New York City Restaurant Resource Guide.

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