Sidewalk cafes: where creepy internet people congregate to let strangers leer at their meals while cabs blow toxic fumes into their bolognese. For some reason, New Yorkers love these things, sometimes even voluntarily waiting longer at more popular spots just to be deafened as trucks barrel down the street. Not to go full Cuozzo, but sidewalk seating is fucking stupid. Let me explain.
I get the appeal of the outdoors. In the few weeks between being buried in blizzards and the flesh melting off your face, it's nice to soak up a few rays of Vitamin D, feel a light breeze rustle the scraggle of one's beard and kick back for a cool one. Backyard bars are glorious for this, some rooftop bars are even tolerable, and other types of outdoor spaces are fine, too, with stipulations. But the sidewalk should be reserved for one thing: walking.
(Leslie M. / Yelp)
The Noise You'll never fully appreciate the sheer volume of emergencies happening every minute in NYC until you're plunked down on 2nd Avenue while fire truck after police car after ambulance scream by your curbside table. Same goes for impatient cabs honking mere milliseconds after a stoplight turns green; groaning, screeching construction trucks; ice cream truck musical torture; music blaring out of open windows; and just general cityscape cacophony. Add to this: snot rockets and lugie hawking. I get a good dose of that emerging from the subway on my commute—my meals are for escapism.
The Detritus Was that air conditioner leakage or bird poop? A stray piece of dirt in my eye or a patch of dry skin from a passing stranger? Did the plastic bag that blew into my path contain someone's freshly acquired veggies or a handful of dog feces off the sidewalk? Don't forget that fresh, steaming hot bath of bus exhaust straight to your face or an explosive nasal spray from a hay-fever stricken passerby. Now imagine all of that...only you're eating. Hard pass.
The Ogling A healthy amount of, "What's my neighboring table eating?" is normal in any restaurant environment. But throngs of strangers slowing down to peer at your plate is an uncomfortable type of performative eating. Worse still, the people waiting for you to vacate so they can swoop in and take up your table. It's difficult to relax when someone's staring daggers at you with every bite. "But the people watching!" you cry. Look, I've seen just as many attractive passersby as I've seen nose pickers and butt cracks.
The Dog Pee I am 100% in favor of dogs in outdoor spaces at bars and restaurants; it's fun, they're cute, fine. But as I witnessed at one backyard Brooklyn spot recently, this also means they are more or less free to pee as they please. Same goes for distracted—or oblivious—dog walkers on the sidewalks, who'll let little Max and Bella pee mere inches from where you're sipping a rose or hoisting a nacho into your mouth. I know dog pee covers every square inch of sidewalk space in NYC, but I don't want to be reminded while I'm trying to eat and unwind.
The Congestion Even if you're not dining at them, sidewalk cafes are a hazard. Navigating the tiny corridor between tables and the
dog poop boxes tree beds can be a huge challenge, especially with traffic trying to flow in both directions. On larger avenues, perhaps not as much of a burden, but on smaller streets, it can create bottlenecks that obstruct the flow of pedestrian traffic for several blocks. On the charmant streets of Paris, they can take on a romantic quality; on the cramped blocks of Bedford Avenue in Williamsburg, they're a downright nuisance.
Luckily, for we curmudgeons of the al fresco dining scene, the city has helpfully mapped out where they are so they can be avoided. And someday soon, may our fair city be purged of them once and for all. GOOD DAY!
Update: My colleague Jen Carlson says "sidewalk seating is awesome."