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."
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 Café 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.