By Gretchen Williams, Dining and Cuisine Writer
Life is challenging this summer, and the living is getting easier, by fits and starts. Dining inside restaurants is prohibited again, and bars are waiting for the order to open again. Outdoor dining is okay if done while wearing facial coverings and practicing social distancing. Proper hygienic procedures by the restaurant must still be met by compliance on the part of the guests and staff.
Early summer is a delightful time to dine al fresco in Southern California, where this time of year is blessed with mild weather and refreshing ocean breezes … Redondo Beach has made outdoor dining a celebration; Catalina Avenue is sacrificing parking to make room for tables on the sidewalk and in the street.
Canopies shade the festive scene, and even with reduced numbers of tables, the restaurants are enjoying success. Dining is spilling out onto the streets in Long Beach as well. Always welcoming to strolling, shopping and sidewalk dining, Belmont Shore’s 2nd Street has a charming neighborhood feeling as does Retro Row, with its dining “parklets” near downtown Long Beach.
Late to the party, Los Angeles, and San Pedro in particular, is taking the parklet concept of turning the parking spaces directly adjacent to the restaurant into space for tables. These parklets will incorporate a trick protective structure to make a level surface on slight hills and bring the street up to sidewalk level. The prototype for the enclosure has Super Bowl design heritage, and Pedro’s downtown anticipates more deliveries by the end of July. Look for it around 6th and 7th street eateries to spill happily into the streets.
Truth be told, the San Pedro Property Owners Business Improvement District had already begun laying the groundwork for outdoor dining long before the COVID-19 pandemic made it an imperative at Los Angeles City Hall.
When the pandemic hit, Mayor Eric Garcetti moved to allow restaurants to have outdoor dining on the sidewalk and in the private parking lots owned by the restaurant. Included in the order was the allowance of outdoor dining in closed-off streets created by PBIDs and chambers of commerce. San Pedro’s al fresco dining will work like the federal government’s Paycheck Protection Program, which are small business loans to help keep workers receiving a paycheck through low interest loans that can be forgiven after the business owners fulfill some requirements.
In the case of the San Pedro Outdoor Dining program, the PBID will finance the infrastructure such as k-rails and platforms for San Pedro’s al fresco dining program, asking only that restaurants participate by providing outdoor dining opportunities. Participating restaurants can then apply to have the alfresco dining infrastructure loans forgiven.
This shouldn’t be too much of a problem since San Pedro’s restaurants are still providing takeout service. And the process is getting easier and cheaper. Though the current situation makes dining out challenging, fine cuisine is available every day with pickup and delivery. Delivery services have been forced to modify some charges and many restaurants maintain their own delivery persons at no charge to the customer. A minimum order is required, but it’s often less than $20. Ambiance is so important to the restaurant experience, but safer at home is a good excuse to try a new kitchen or exotic cuisine.
There is a silver lining to this thunderhead cloud. The Southern California restaurant scene has needed a new focus on outdoor dining perfectly suited to our climate and our way of life. Now we just need fresh squeezed orange juice on every table to give us the California Dream.
This Friday, July 10, residents will get to see some of the infrastructure buildout for al fresco dining. From 5 a.m. to 5 p.m., the following streets will be closed to make way for the installation of outdoor parklet k-rails, from:
6th Street from Pacific to Centre;
7th Street from Mesa to Centre;
Centre Street from 6th to 7th
Nelson Street from 6th to 5th
5th Street from Mesa to Centre.