As King County nears the two month mark of the so-called “Phase 2” of reopening and restrictions on indoor dining have tightened — with seating limited to members of the same household and scaled back bar service — dining al fresco seems to be the best way to enjoy your favorite reopening restaurants. Unfortunately, many Capitol Hill and Central District restaurants and cafes don’t have outdoor space. To help, the city has begun a free, “streamlined” process of offering six-month outdoor café and street closure permits.
UPDATE: So far 27 Capitol Hill restaurants have applied for temporary outdoor café permits compared to just 8 Central District businesses, according to the Seattle Department of Transportation, and nine Capitol Hill businesses — and none in the Central District — have shown interest in street closure permits.
“[W]e are preparing to do targeted outreach to small businesses on specific streets in high priority areas to ensure this information is available and accessible,” SDOT’s Brian Hardison said. “To avoid perpetuating existing inequities in the neighborhood, we’re working to ensure that we meet the needs of both businesses and residents.”
Some smaller, fast-moving examples can be found along 15th Ave E. Olympia Pizza III and adjoined Harry’s Bar are some of the first Capitol Hill spots to start outdoor curbside dining.
Owner Harry Nicoloudakis said building the sturdily fenced-in island — also known as a “streatery” — was an easy decision.
“When the city opened up the free permit process and the state was on board, it was just a no brainer to put five extra tables out,” Nicoloudakis said. “Customers love it, now we’ve been getting a lot of the people that were coming in pre-COVID.”
Down the street, Rione XIII set up its own streatery on E Harrison, a quieter sidestreet. Ethan Stowell Restaurants spokesperson Sennen David said the outdoor patio has been a nice supplement to the restaurant’s ongoing takeout business.
“We launched happy hour in the last couple of weeks and being outside on a patio really lends itself to that,” David said.
To really get your favorite urbanist dining companion excited, close an entire street. For some Capitol Hill and Central District food and drink establishments in the right spaces, there are options to spread out even further.
In those cases, some are working with SDOT to temporarily close down a quieter side street that may prove more favorable.
One early Hill pioneer is Optimism Brewing. The E Union and Broadway brewery is extending its beer garden on the weekends onto relatively little used Broadway Court. The street seating gives Optimism around 15 extra tables, which owner Gay Gilmore says has been an important part in keeping the business afloat as it reopens.
“Certainty we’re serving way more people than we were able to before because people want to be outside,” Gilmore said, “but the fact of the matter is is that restaurants and hospitality businesses and breweries like ours — you just can’t survive on only seating 25% of the people that you normally do.”
WORKING WITH THE CITY
Gilmore found SDOT helpful in thinking through how to best implement the street closure, although she wishes free permits could have been an option sooner in the summer.
“They’re doing the right thing by doing this, and they really do think about things from perspectives that restaurateurs don’t — like public safety and where you should be placing your signs to get the best visibility from cars who might not be paying attention,” she said.
Rione XIII’s Sennen David also found the city to be overall helpful in streamlining the application process, making it more efficient than expected under normal circumstances.
“They were very proactive in reaching out to businesses and saying like ‘hey we want to find ways for you to safely have people eating,’ and obviously outdoors is both timely and a lot safer than indoors,” David said.
Gilmore has experience with the temporary street closure permit process for Optimism for previous outdoor brewery events, and says she hopes businesses will be able to sustain outdoor street dining in the coming months.
“I mean the real hard part of this is we’re not in a place, like a lot of businesses right now — they’re not in a place where they can do things like invest a lot of money in an outdoor seating area or even a bunch of heaters and umbrellas for when it gets cold,” she said. “Everyone’s really struggling so making those investments would be really tough.”
Although there’s no guarantee on whether permits will be renewed long term or on how outdoor patios will fare in the upcoming colder months, there will surely be more streateries and street closures popping up in the coming weeks.
“I’ve got a lot of positive feedback from other restaurants on the street who are interested and who have actually approached me about the process,” Olympia Pizza’s Nicoloudakis said. “I’m pretty sure there’s going to be a lot popping up here pretty quick.”
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