New York City is finally eating out again – but al fresco, for now

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Mayor Bill de Blasio and wife Chirlane McCray celebrate the Phase 2 opening at Melba’s Restaurant in Harlem, and talk with owner Melba Wilson. (Photo by Todd Maisel)

If you happen to enjoy dining outdoors in New York City, you’re in luck. Restaurants across the five boroughs are opening again thanks to a solid reduction of COVID-19 cases — but all dining options are, for now, al fresco.

Medical experts have said that being outdoors vastly reduces the chances of the spread of COVID-19, as numerous studies have indicated that the virus is less likely spread in open air — and can be destroyed by ultraviolet light.

During Phase 2 of New York City’s reopening, restaurants are being allowed to set up seating on sidewalks and into city streets. Most New Yorkers welcomed the change, especially Mayor Bill de Blasio and his wife Chirlane McCray, who feasted on soul food at Melba’s Restaurant in Harlem on Monday night.

The mayor and his wife were greeted by owner Melba Wilson at her West 114th Street restaurant, the first time in the establishments history that they had outdoor dining. The first couple sat in a booth specially set in the street in a former parking space.

“This is a big step forward. It’s like liberation to be able to eat out again. It’s nice to be out with people and restaurants are such a part of heart and soul of this city,” de Blasio said.

The mayor had chicken and waffles, while his wife had salmon with collard greens and macaroni and cheese. They also had numerous interruptions, not to mention a contingent of media who came to document the moment.

Mayor Bill de Blasio and wife Chirlane McCray celebrate the Phase 2 opening at Melba’s Restaurant in Harlem, (Photo by Todd Maisel)

At points, Wilson joined the power couple, talking with them about city issues and just passing the time. A number of other New Yorkers would stop momentarily, one man on his bicycle who chatted briefly with the mayor as his wife ate her food. Several motorists driving by also stopped to take cell phone pictures.

His meal was not a quiet affair either — as fireworks were shot off only two blocks away. Police stationed nearby weren’t phased by the ubiquitous spectacles which have hit the city all this month at all hours of the day, becoming the bane of many residents.

Smoke rose could be seen rising from one fireworks display, at first seeming to be a fire, until M-80 blasts shook the block.

And like finding an unexpected pit in an olive, mayoral critic Joe Craig showed with a green placard with the word “RESIGN.” Craig shouted to the mayor, blaming him for hundreds of death from COVID-19 and many other city ills. But the mayor brushed it off and continued eating, not allowing anyone to disturb his night out with his wife — surrounded by a contingent of security, staff and a dozen cops standing across the street and down the block.

Mayor Bill de Blasio and wife Chirlane McCray celebrate the Phase 2 opening at Melba’s Restaurant in Harlem, but are not free of at least one protestor. (Photo by Todd Maisel)

Restaurants around the city were also opened for business thanks to the start of Phase 2 reopening.

Marc Glosserman, owner of Hill Country Barbecue on West 26th Street, a popular Flatiron eatery, spread tables out into the street, their existing permits making it easier for them to move into parking spaces formerly reserved for commercial vehicles and cars after hours.

The restaurant has been operating as a take out and delivery food services since the beginning of the pandemic and another restaurant he operates in Washington, D.C. is a bit ahead, already in their phase 2 outdoor operations, working at about 50% capacity.

“We’re still trying to figure out our opening plans,” Glosserman said, adding that he didn’t reopen his second restaurant around the corner, Hill Country Chicken, that didn’t have an outdoor permit.’

“It will be interesting to see how many places open up we are now outdoors open and we are doing ok, but I think it’s going to be one day at a time,” said Glosserman, acknowledging that outdoor dining becomes impossible in December. “We are easing our way back in – it’s not an easy time to be in business. We don’t know what twists and turns there’s going to be. It could be great if vaccine and then we would be in a good place on this, by end of year – who knows.”

Tables are set up in the street at Hill Country Barbecue in Flatiron. (Photo by Todd Maisel)
Hill Country Barbecue on West 26th Street reopened, and assistant manager Brett Mendl is ready to serve. (Photo by Todd Maisel)

Brett Mendl, assistant general manager of Hill Country Barbecue, worked inside the restaurant helping to make sure orders were going to the right places.

“We applied for the street permits and now we have the tables outside and hopefully in a couple of weeks we can start letting people back inside with the air conditioning and that should be about the week after July 4, we should be able to let people in,” Mendl said. “Between that and outside, we should do pretty well.”

There was good reviews for the outdoor dining along 26th Street where other restaurants set up their tables on the street.

“It’s very nice after so long. It’s like we are normalizing again,” said Yailin Pino, dining with family visiting from Miami Beach at Local Bazar Restaurant. “It’s nice after three months after being indoors.”

West 26th Street restaurant open for outdoor business and Yailin Pino and friends feast at Local Bazaar. (Photo by Todd Maisel)