People dining on sidewalks is becoming an increasingly common site downtown, and it’s spreading to other parts of the city.
More restaurants are offering sidewalk dining since Mayor James Fiorentini began pushing it a few years ago as a way to energize the downtown. More recently, the city used a state grant to build “sidewalk bumpouts” in front of restaurants on Washington and Wingate streets to create more room for patio-style umbrella tables and chairs.
Keon’s 105 Bistro, The Tap restaurant and the former George’s Restaurant were among Washington Street eateries that offered sidewalk dining last year. More are expected to do it this year, including possibly the Barking Dog Ale House, which replaced George’s Restaurant.
The License Commission has given Ivan Yee permission for outside dining in front of his Oriental Garden restaurant in the Westgate shopping plaza. That outdoor area, with room for 90 customers, will be the largest such dining spot in the city, not including outside decks, which are also becoming common. The Tap, Blue Finn Grille and Hans Garden are among restaurants downtown with large decks for outside dining. Those decks overlook the Merrimack River.
“People like to eat outside, especially after they have been cooped up all winter,” said Yee, noting he hopes to begin outdoor service in about three weeks. “A lot of my customers have been asking for it.”
Yee said he will install a fence around his outside dining area at the request of the License Commission. At last week’s meeting, police Captain Alan Ratte said the department’s only concern with outside dining is that someone keeps a close watch on patrons so they can’t take leave the area with alcoholic drinks.
Yee said he would assign a manager to the outside dining area at the busiest times.
The mayor said city officials are encouraging restaurants to seek permission to set up tables outdoors.
“Sidewalk dining is one of the things that our consultant said would really energize the city,” Fiorentini said in a recent interview.