Depending on the time of day and weather, thoroughfares with lots of restaurants have been more or less packed of late. Like Hanover Street in the North End, for example. Which is great for the owners of establishments and the economy, but still far less good for people who live in these extremely busy areas and, in some cases, for hospitality workers in harm’s way.
On the heels of last week’s reading of the riot act by Boston health officials to North End restaurateurs, let’s assume that most people are being as safe as they possibly can while dining out, that owners care about the health of their employees, and that our community at large is prudent enough to keep operating under the current restrictions without sliding backwards.
The state has a whole suite of applicable rules for indoor and outdoor dining, but in the interest of painting a picture of the situation downtown, here’s an abridged selection of those regulations along with the some that are specific to the Hub at the moment:
Tables at least six feet apart
No tents allowed, though umbrellas are acceptable
No outdoor music or entertainment
No pets with exception of service animals
Mandatory closing times of 10:30 pm on weekdays and 11:30 pm on weekends
Wear a face covering when coming and going to your table
Wear a face covering while using the restroom
Even with all these hurdles, when it comes to food reporting one thing hasn’t changed at all—this is always the time of the year when we write about patios. And gardens. And roof decks. And basically any kind of place where heads can grub and imbibe with the sky (and maybe even the coast, river, or harbor) in clear view. We have done several such roundups, and with the current circumstances considered, we figured we we’d continue the tradition.
But this is not your typical food and drink issue. From Marc Hurwitz bringing the news that we’d better get used to the current normal, to Haley Hamilton and Eric Twardzik reporting on restaurant industry initiatives to save itself, there’s not a lot to celebrate. But for the sake of recalling a simpler time, we excerpted an “Out To Lunch” guide written by the late great Boston reporter Jon Klarfeld. Penned for the Boston Phoenix supplement Savor in May 1979, (most of) it could easily apply to what we’re experiencing today:
The greening of Boston and environs accomplished, the thoughts of many a lass and lad turn toward fair weather pleasures, one of which is dining out. Let us define our terms. And this case, out means just what it says—to wit, outside.
There is, of course, the school of thought which holds it ridiculous to brave the outdoors when one can take advantage of centuries of progress and eat inside, in relative comfort—protected from the elements, the insects, one’s fellow man and the pollutants that said progress has produced.
But the urge to eat or drink close to the climate remain strong, and as the crocus wanes and lawns grow greener, the sidewalk cafes and garden dining areas come out of winter hiding, another sign of the triumph of the vernal equinox, the inevitability of the summer solstice. The Druids used to mark such events by doing arcane things at Stonehenge on Salisbury Plain. Around here, one settles for eating light lunches under umbrellas on Newbury Street.
From the point of view of the restaurateur, there is one major problem with outdoor dining. The very weather that entices customers to the al fresco cafe can turn surly and wet in a moment, driving these customers to seek shelter elsewhere or to move indoors, taxing the facilities to their limit. With this in mind, a number of restaurants now seek the best of all possible worlds by affecting your compromise between outdoor pleasures and indoor climate control. These places provide garden settings, outdoor ambiance and balmy breezes, all of this under that modern architectural miracle, a roof.
Both the enclosed garden and the traditional sidewalk cafe have their adherents. Whatever your feelings about trends, you will have ample choices.