With Open Restaurants on its Way to Permanence, Music Heads Indoors

Posted on: November 9th, 2021 at 5:03 am by

Miss Maybell at Fern’s, Photo: Everynight Charley

What follows is a checkup of the downtown music scene with Everynight Charley Crespo, prolific Editor of The Manhattan Beat. Here is the latest entry.

The city’s Open Restaurants program has decreased in importance as a showcase for live music.

A year ago, outdoor dining establishments and busking were the only ways musicians could play to in-person audiences around New York City. Since the easing of dining restrictions began in April, though, the number of restaurants bringing live music to outdoor dining has diminished greatly. Most establishments have moved their music programming indoors, where the majority of customers tend to sit. Complicating matters, a recent document issued by the Department of Transportation states that “amplified sound is not allowed in either sidewalk or roadway dining setups.”

Over the past few months, several downtown bars and restaurants, including the Anyway Café, Caravan of Dreams, Hermana NYC, and Marshall Stack, moved their stages further indoors and away from open windows. Groove just joined the trend this week. Café Wha? recently cut the size of its shed to allow for improved vehicular traffic, and so eliminated its outdoor performance space. (The Waterfront Ale House is closing due to the landlord selling the building.) Very few restaurants still present live music for outdoor diners.

Ping Louds at the Seaport, Photo: Everynight Charley

In addition to restaurant gigs, local musicians sometimes turn to public spaces and play for tips. The city’s Department of Parks and Recreation resumed the granting of permits to promoters who submit applications for performances in Tompkins Square Park and other public spaces. Numerous musicians are performing without permits as well. Increasingly, musicians are returning to the plazas in subway stations.

Open Restaurants, an emergency measure the city instituted when New York State prohibited indoor dining in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, seems on its way to becoming a permanent year-round program. Promoted by outgoing Mayor Bill de Blasio and supported by the hospitality industry, including the New York City Hospitality Alliance and similar restaurant lobbies, the program eases the path for food establishments to serve customers on sidewalks and curbside sheds. As hearings are being held to both positive and negative responses in community boards throughout the city, a group of 23 citizens, mostly in Greenwich Village and the Lower East Side, filed a lawsuit against the city in New York Supreme Court.

“Open Restaurants was a big, bold experiment in supporting a vital industry and reimagining our public space. And it worked,” de Blasio said in a September 25 press conference in which he announced the intention to make the emergency program permanent. “As we begin a long-term recovery, we’re proud to extend and expand this effort to keep New York City the most vibrant city in the world. It’s time for a new tradition.”

Blueblack in Tompkins Square Park, Photo: Everynight Charley

Open Restaurants was a lifeline for food establishments when customers were prohibited from dining inside. Currently, outdoor service is the only dining experience allowed for the unvaccinated in New York City. Many restaurant owners insist that their outdoor structures are necessary for business recovery. The city’s Department of Transportation declared on June 18 that an environmental assessment considered the effects of the Open Restaurants program on human health, noise levels, and community character, and concluded that allowing outdoor dining in residential districts year-round would have “no significant effect upon the environment.” Upon completion of the round of neighborhood hearings, the City Council will review the city’s recommendation.

However, many downtown residents, including those living above restaurants, have been vocal in opposition. The 108-page petition Arntzen v. City of New York, filed on October 18, claims the city bypassed long-standing zoning rules and is not considering the program’s long-term effects. The complaint claims the program has manifested negative effects to the streets like accessibility challenges, noise, trash, vermin, and numerous safety issues. The petition asks the court to mandate that the municipal government complete a new environmental impact assessment.

Photo: Candace Pedraza

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