Volume 23, Number 15 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | August 18 - 24, 2010
New York City Consumer Affairs Commissioner Jonathan Mintz (far left), Nicole LaRusso of Downtown Alliance (left-center) and city D.O.T. Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan (right) took a beverage break with celebrity musician David Byrne (right-center), a midtown Manhattan resident who was previously selected by D.O.T. to judge a bike rack design competition.
Bending the rules to create a sidewalk café
BY Aline Reynolds
The Financial District now has a one-of-a-kind lunch spot, the city’s first “pop-up” café. It opened last week on Pearl Street between Broad Street and Coenties Slip, and is meant to stimulate economic growth among food businesses and provide a new hangout for the neighborhood’s residents and workers.
The café consists of red tables and chairs atop an elevated 84-foot-long, wooden platform, which is surrounded by flower-filled planters.
“This program... has the potential to provide a needed boost to local restaurants at a time when they face significant challenges due to the state of the economy and the extraordinary amount of construction that is underway throughout our district,” said Community Board 1 chair Julie Menin, in a statement.
Small city sidewalks such as Pearl Street’s are not allowed to have traditional sidewalk cafés, according to city law.
“[The pop-up café] really helps solve the riddle of what we needed to do in terms of dealing with this narrow sidewalk,” said city Department of Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan.
The city held a ribbon cutting ceremony on August 12th, where the city Department of Consumer Affairs, the D.O.T., Downtown Alliance and C.B. 1 spoke about the anticipated benefits of the café.
“It’s tailored to meet the needs of businesses located [on] very narrow streets,” Sadik-Khan said. “If this experiment works, which we expect it to, we think this could be a new model for sidewalk cafés all around the city.”
“[The pop-up café] adds a great feeling to the whole block,” said David Johansson, co-owner of FIKA espresso bar, one of two food businesses on Pearl Street that financed the construction of the café.
“It’s a wonderful addition to the neighborhood,” said C.B. 1 Financial District Committee chairman Ro Sheffe. Amenities such as these are needed, he added, to compensate for the Financial District’s residential growth.
Eying the success of the outdoor café space on the nearby Stone Street, Johansson and co-owners Prashant and Sonal Bhadd of Bombay restaurant, next door to FIKA, approached Downtown Alliance and the D.O.T. in spring 2009, asking how they could expand their eateries outdoors. The D.O.T. decided to temporarily convert the businesses’ loading zones into a wooden platform with tables and chairs. To make room for the café, D.O.T. eliminated four parking spaces that will be restored in the winter, when the café will be dismantled. For the temporary loss in parking, D.O.T. added two parking spots on Pearl Street, near Coenties Slip to help compensate.
The D.O.T. sought out R.G. Architecture to design the café, which is modeled after an outdoor space that the firm’s founder and owner, Riyad Ghannam, devised in San Francisco.
FIKA and Bombay pitched in a total of $22,000 for the construction and are mutually responsible for the café’s upkeep.
Since it unofficially opened on August 5th, the pop-up café has already attracted a steady stream of pedestrians and is starting to make profits for FIKA and Bombay. Johansson had to hire an additional server to keep the space clean, but said additional patrons easily make up for the cost.
“Naturally the café has [already] helped increase business a little,” Bhadd said. “We wish to see more in the future,” she added, by spreading the word about the café via the web.
Delivery trucks would previously block the view of the restaurant from across the street. Now, pedestrians have a clear view.
While it might help the two businesses’ revenues, Sadik-Khan stressed that the café is a public space for all, not limited to the patrons of the two restaurants.
“We need to do more to make our streets attractive destinations in it of themselves,” she said.
As for reintroducing the Pearl Street café next year, Sadik-Khan said, “We’re going to evaluate the program [this year], and take it from there.”