Taking Stock of Hell Square Dining Sheds
The land area in Hell Square is approximately 57 acres according to the GIS maps provided by the New York State Liquor Authority. Within that boundary – Houston/Delancey/Allen/Essex – are over 130 active liquor licenses, translating to approximately 2.3 bars per acre or 11.5 bars per block. Hell Square comprises tiny streets measuring less than standard New York City streets and avenues; many sidewalks are also too narrow to legally accommodate sidewalk cafes before the emergency order.
Pre-Covid, there were seven permitted sidewalk cafes in Hell Square, according to SLA Mapper, a tool that community boards use to review liquor license applications and sidewalk cafe applications. Coupled with the Open Restaurants program, there are now about 101 road sheds or dining structures dominating the narrow and compact streets and sidewalks — more than ten times as many outdoor spaces than before the pandemic.
When comparing against the 302 sheds in the entire 10002 zip code, Hell Square accounts for 33% of the total. Food and beverage businesses have doubled or tripled in size and capacity, bringing larger crowds and, arguably, more disorder.
“What has been allowed to happen to our neighborhood, in terms of liquor license saturation which is now paired with outdoor expansions, is a complete and unapologetic abandonment of public health, welfare, and safety by our elected officials and government agencies,” LES Dwellers founder, Diem Boyd, says. “The conditions here went from unlivable pre-Covid to untenable post-Covid.”
As previously reported, the city is trying to make permanent the pandemic-implemented Open Restaurants program. However, the Supreme Court of the State of New York ruled in favor of 22 New Yorkers this March, who filed suit against the city last fall. The claimants argued that the negative impacts of the program – dining sheds galore – required an environmental review.
In further protest of the push, the Coalition United for Equitable Urban Policy is planning another march this Friday with the goal of ensuring this environmental review, and to demand a community-based plan for the permanent program. It will start at Father Demo Square and end in a rally beneath the arch in Washington Square Park.