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Capitol Hill’s streets filling with pandemic-era restaurant patios — Will they stay?

Plum’s “greenhouse” seating on 12th Ave

As Washington’s reopening speeds, there are signs that getting “back to normal” too quickly could be part of a new uptick in the spread of the virus. For Capitol Hill’s restaurants lucky enough to have a safe stretch of pavement nearby and the foresight to invest in some creative solutions, street patios have been a business lifeline allowing what officials say is a safer approach to reopening in the food and drink economy.

Across the Pike/Pine nightlife area, CHS found a diversity of designs and solutions in place across the neighborhood. But we also heard the same thing again and again from owners facing the uncertainty of a drawn out pandemic future.

“We would love to have this long term but the special permitting is set to stop in October unless the city changes something,” the folks at Cafe Pettirosso tell us. “We will have this as long as possible, it has helped tremendously.”

A night outside Oddfellows on 10th Ave


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In October, CHS reported on the “street, tent, and heater permit plan” that could help your favorite Capitol Hill restaurants and bars survive Seattle’s rainy season. We were wrong. The plan might be a key to helping many venues survive even after the rain stops (July?) depending on how the viral spread continues and the reopening proceeds.

Last fall, the city extended temporary street permits that allow outdoor seating though Halloween of 2021 as Seattle Fire Department stepped up its process to allow free tent and heating permits to venues that comply with fire codes and strict inspection requirements.

Lost Lake on 10th Ave

The changes allowed businesses to make a more long-lasting investment in street spaces as the city now allows “outdoor dining equipment” to remain in place every day and around the clock meaning venues can put more permanent structures in place and cut down on time consuming setup and breakdown.

“It’s like setting up the Block Party every single night,” Linda Morton of Capitol Hill’s Terra Plata told CHS in October.

For some food and drink businesses on the Hill, the spaces have been key to reopening and putting employees back to work while giving neighbors something to enjoy beyond the quarantines. The change to add patios to areas that had mostly been used for street parking has also returned a brighter sense of life to many streets creating a safer, more lively feeling environment on corners that had been feeling downright bleak.

Cafe Pettiroso’s 11th Ave setup

This better use for curbsides has many neighborhood food and drink leaders thinking.

“We plan on having this patio for as long as possible,” Adam Szafranski of the Derschang Group tells CHS about its 10th Ave patio setup in front of Oddfellows. “Right now the city is allowing for these temporary street patios up to October of this year, but we anticipate there will be an extension, or hopefully a new application to easily convert these temporary patios into permanent ones.”

In the meantime, the Oddfellows island along with a neighboring setup from Lost Lake has achieved many of the goals that past “pedestrianization” pilots in the area or the half-hearted transformation of E Denny Way near Capitol Hill Station have only sniffed. Turns out, there is more than one way to start a “superblock.”

At Capitol Cider, they’ve been steadily upgrading their patio setup with plans to add flowers to the growing setup. Owner Julie Tall says the E Pike cider bar “would absolutely like to see it remain” and that the seating “helps activate the street and that corner.”

Like many, Capitol Cider is left speculating about what will come later this year. Tall says she has been told by the city that the seating would have to be taken down “three months after the city enters phase IV.”

“It’s a big investment to have to dismantle and people love it,” Tall says.

Capitol Cider

But the solution can’t help everyone. Many venues like 12th Ave’s Canon have yet to reopen in part because they don’t have a safe street or sidewalk space to work with. Other setups that have been permitted present growing accessibility issues as more people return to the commercial areas.

Plum

Despite the challenges, the projects have brought new life to Capitol Hill streets — and interesting designs. And more are coming. This weekend, E Pike’s Life on Mars will reopen with a patio of its own.

On 12th Ave in front of Plum Bistro, the seating looks like a series of personal-sized greenhouses. Owner Makini Howell credits her general manager David Polanco for the creation of the seating area — a literal extension of Plum’s business into the neighborhood. Howell says Polanco also designed and remodeled the inside of the restaurant and retrofitted it to be as COVID safe as possible. “He is excellent with thinking about how restaurants can run best and then executing it,” Howell said, adding she hopes the street seating — along with Polanco’s creativity — can become a permanent fixture on the street.


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Zach
Zach
17 days ago

I thought the neighborhood HATES tents on the sidewalk. Or do they just hate poor people…

CityOfVagrants
CityOfVagrants
17 days ago
Reply to  Zach

The neighborhood hates criminals, not poor people.

Moving On
Moving On
17 days ago

Love them. I absolutely support making them permanent.

Nope
Nope
17 days ago

If they don’t have a lot of airflow then it’s all a waste of time. Basically working around indoor occupancy limits.

dave
dave
17 days ago

Those not-very-well-ventilated Plum tents look like they’d be really effective at trapping customers’ potentially COVID-infected exhalations to swirl around waiting for the next customer to walk in and sit down.

RWK
RWK
17 days ago

I haven’t understood why these spaces are any more Covid-safe than dining indoors with distancing. It’s fine that they have given restaurants and some employees a lifeline during the pandemic, but once that’s over I think they should go the way of the dodo. Most of them are cheap-looking and not very inviting. And who wants to dine bundled-up against the rain and cold?

C Doom
C Doom
16 days ago

The outdoor area by Taco Chukis on Broadway has been making a great heroin use gallery during the day. Gets the kids out of the weather, gives them a nice bench to rest in, and even a little table to use for their activities. And with cops ignoring low-grade drug use, it’s pretty much turning into the Kurt Cobain Memorial we always needed.

Bob
Bob
15 days ago
Reply to  C Doom

what does that even mean dude lol

nwpolitico
nwpolitico
16 days ago

I’d enjoy being able to safely use bike lanes again without running into these types of patios, or trekking into traffic. Good intention but poor execution.

Steve
Steve
14 days ago
Reply to  nwpolitico

“Good intention but poor execution” should be Seattle’s motto.