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New York City Gets Its First “Pop-up Café,” Similar to SF’s Parklets

12:26 PM PDT on August 12, 2010

PopUpCafeJSK.jpgNicole
Russo of the Downtown Alliance, David Byrne, and DOT Commissioner
Janette Sadik-Khan enjoy coffee and mango lassis at Pearl Street's new
pop-up café. Photo: Noah Kazis

The narrow streets of Lower
Manhattan date back centuries and pose a set of challenges nearly unique
in New York City. With the city's first "pop-up café," DOT is testing
out a solution to one of those challenges: the lack of public space
caused by cramped sidewalks.

The wooden platform of the café takes the place of a few parking
spaces along Pearl Street, sitting on top of the roadbed. With 14 tables
-- the same red model now familiar from Times Square -- and 50 chairs,
the space will be able to absorb some of the neighborhood's lunchtime
rush. Sidewalk cafés are generally not allowed in the neighborhood
because the sidewalks are too narrow.

The name "pop-up café" is perhaps a bit misleading. No food is
being sold in the space -- it's just public seating. This first café is
sponsored by two neighboring restaurants, Fika, a coffeeshop, and
Bombay's, serving Indian food, but they don't offer table service and
anyone who likes may sit down. 

The "pop-up" bit, though, is apt. Ro Sheffe, the Community Board 1
Financial District Chairman, said DOT approached the board with the idea
on July 7. "Thirty-five days later and there it is," he said. "I wish
we'd got you involved in the World Trade Center." 

PopUpCafe.jpgPhoto: Noah Kazis

Local businesses are excited about the pop-up café and aren't
worried about the handful of parking spaces that will be unavailable
during the summer months it is in place. "It's going to benefit
business," said Prashant Bhatt, the owner of Bombay's. 

"It's also the visibility," added the co-owner of Fika. "You can
see from far away that something good is happening here," he explained.

The two restaurants split the cost of the café between them; the
city didn't have to pay a dime. Architect Riyad Ghannam of RG Architecture, who designed the popular parklet in front of Mojo's Bicycle Cafe in San Francisco, donated his services. 

Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan predicted that it
would be used by as many, and as many kinds, of people as the new public
spaces her department has created across the city. "Every time we put
down just an orange barrel, people just materialize out of nowhere," she
said. "If you build it, they will sit."

If DOT deems this first pilot to be a success, said Sadik-Khan, more such cafés could be installed next spring.

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