Metropolis

What It Takes for a Dining Shed to Be Transcendent

The sidewalk shed at Peaches Kitchen and Bar in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn.
Peaches Kitchen and Bar in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn. Mark McNulty

Oh, the things you can do with a parking spot.

Last spring, New York City decided to allow restaurants to claim sidewalk and curb space in front of their businesses for outdoor dining. Nearly 12,000 restaurants have seized the opportunity, with more than 7,000 operating in what was once the roadway.

What seemed like a dicey customer experience at first—eating between the trash bags and the speeding traffic—quickly became an indispensable attraction of New York life (as in every city that was wise enough to redistribute the parking spots drivers didn’t need during the crisis to the eateries that did). That’s in no small part thanks to the creative architecture of the city’s hospitality sector, which turned leftover curb space into valuable, eye-catching real estate.

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Figuring out how restaurants should pay for that land will be a challenge for New York City’s presumed next mayor, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, who runs on the Democratic Party line in the November election. In the meantime, the Regional Plan Association, a local think tank, selected a jury to pick some inaugural winners of the “Alfresco Awards,” to celebrate one silver lining of a difficult year.

Below are some of the restaurants selected by the jury. Many of them are not among the most sophisticated, expensive outbuildings to come out of the Open Restaurants experiment. You don’t have to go far on the streets of New York to find sidewalk sheds whose high design suggests more forethought, investment, and permanence than the original buildings themselves, which, after all, were probably erected by a band of immigrant tradesmen with a form book.

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Instead, the selections emphasize openness. Curbside dining, in this view, can’t just amount to walled-off, air-conditioned (some of them, yes) rooms that, at Manhattan price points, offer little more to the general public than the German-made crossovers whose place they took. Instead, a good shed embraces its place in the public right of way, offering a taste of the city to diners and a dose of priceless people watching to all.

Think!Chinatown, A+A+A Studio, and Chaos Built created Assembly Chinatown, constructing structures for local businesses at no cost.
A shed by Assembly Chinatown. Mark McNulty
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Think!Chinatown, A+A+A Studio, and Chaos Built created Assembly Chinatown, constructing structures for local businesses in need.

A curbside dining shed at the Empire Diner in Manhattan.
The Empire Diner in Manhattan. Mark McNulty
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The sidewalk shed of Maiden Korea, which uses part of a vacant lot on the corner.
Maiden Korea. Mark McNulty.

Several upper-story restaurants in Manhattan’s Koreatown collaborated on Maiden Korea, which uses part of a vacant lot on the corner.

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The sidewalk shed of Maiden Korea, which uses part of a vacant lot on the corner.
Maiden Korea. Mark McNulty
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The sidewalk shed at Brooklyn's Kokomo, which opened during the pandemic.
Brooklyn’s Kokomo, which opened during the pandemic. Mark McNulty
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The curbside dining shed at Bed-Stuy's Peaches uses reclaimed plastic bottles.
Bed-Stuy’s Peaches Kitchen and Bar. Mark McNulty
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Bed-Stuy’s Peaches Kitchen and Bar used reclaimed plastic bottles to build translucent seating cabins alongside more open tables.

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An open dining shed outside Arthur Avenue Retail Market in the Bronx's Little Italy.
An open dining shed outside Arthur Avenue Retail Market in the Bronx’s Little Italy. Mark McNulty
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