With coronavirus cases on the rise, restaurants are betting big that New Yorkers will continue to eat outdoors this winter, giving eateries with alfresco dining a leg up again.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Monday warned that indoor dining in New York City, which reopened at 25-percent capacity on Sept. 30, will likely be closed again if coronavirus hospitalizations don’t stabilize in the next five days.
The threat, which has been looming for weeks, means even more eateries will shut permanently. Restaurants blessed with a rooftop, backyard, sidewalk or street not blocked off by a fire hydrant, however, are spending big to remake their outdoor dining spaces into cozy winter getaways.
At Nerai, an upscale Greek restaurant in Midtown, owner Spiro Menegatos has spent $120,000 winterizing his garden area so that people will continue to dine there this winter.
“We thought maybe we’d get lucky and have a mild winter, but we had some cold days in November and we knew we’d have to do something,” Menegatos said. “If the city closes indoor dining, this is the only way we will be able to survive the winter. Deliveries aren’t even close to viable.”
Winterizing the 1,000-square-foot garden with its 45 seats required building a large wooden pergola with three sides and plexiglass windows that open. Menegatos also had to spend on electricians and heaters to keep the space lighted and warm, as well as new outdoor furniture and winter landscaping since the summer flowers had died.
“We wanted to create a beautiful space. People don’t want to dine in a subpar space. They want to go out for dinner and not feel like they are on the street, with trucks driving by,” Menegatos said.
Fig & Olive, a South-of-France-vibed eatery, shuttered its Midtown location, which had the bad luck of being in a pandemically doomed location with no outdoor space. But it’s been blessed with plenty of space at its Meatpacking location, which has been turned into a winter wonderland complete with tables wrapped in plastic igloos, wood floors and cozy fur throws lining the seats.
There’s also a lean-to style “lodge” with nine seats and a French-inspired outdoor holiday market curated by fashion tastemaker/entrepreneur Olivia Palermo.
“Having outdoor space is helpful but you still have to be creative and there is still a cost,” said Fig & Olive CEO Alexis Blair. “I think during troubling times there will always be a period of innovation and that is what is so amazing about the restaurant industry. It is filled with the most creative and resilient minds of anyone I have ever known.”
Magic Hour Rooftop Bar & Lounge, a 10,000-square-foot outdoor eatery at the Moxy Times Square hotel, has also invested big in its outdoor space this winter by transforming it into a pink ski lodge. The festive Instagram-ready decor includes pink snow, a ski-lift carousel, a hot pink electric fireplace, floor-to-ceiling pink log walls, carnival-esq faux pink taxidermy, and plenty of heaters.
The “après-ski”- themed lounge boasts a retractable roof that has been open during the pandemic. “Since many New Yorkers aren’t traveling during the holidays, we wanted to bring the slopes of Aspen and Vail to New York, to give Manhattanites an escape,” said Yvonne Najor, the TAO Group’s director of marketing.
Tribeca’s Kitchen has held off reopening inside even as it invests in weathering its outdoor space with plans to create a permanent outdoor structure in the New Year.
“Everyone is trying to grab as much outdoor space as they can — even from their neighbors,” said restaurant consultant Rick Camac, whose clients include Tribeca’s Kitchen. “And if you don’t have outdoor space, you are out of luck. Many restaurants will be dropping like flies, unless more federal aid kicks in.”
Even with small budgets, eateries like Carnegie Diner & Cafe in Midtown can create an outdoor holiday wonderland. Stathis Antonakopoulos tells Side Dish he spent around $6,000 decorating Carnegie Diner’s outdoor space, which fits 20 socially distant tables that seat 40 people.
The money bought a tent, heaters and Christmas-themed inflatables and a way for Antonakopoulos to hedge his bets. “We have delayed winterizing our outdoor space as we try to find out whether or not the city will close us down. For now we are in limbo,” he said.