DOT Unveils New “Pop Up Café” in Financial District

PopUpCafeJSK.jpgNicole LaRusso 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 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. 

  • Awesome. The simple ideas are the best.

  • Danny G

    Where does it go in winter?

  • ishan

    Excellent ,love it .

  • I think the san francisco name “parklet” is better. “Pop up cafe” makes me think theres outdoor food sales involved.

  • Albert

    I like a name that might imply to Wall Street types that there is a better economic use to put all that valuable Manhattan real estate than giving it away free to store cars.

  • MK

    The DOT should experiment with having pop-up cafes/parklets in the winter as well. Local restaurants can sponsor blankets so people keep warm while lingering and sipping warm beverages. There should be a creative strategy to get folks to comfortably spend time in public spaces during the cold months too.

  • Danny G


    Are you suggesting a dumpster onsen?

  • Pete

    And hate-filled screed calling this another terrible idea coming from the NY Post in 3…2….1….

  • Larry Littlefield

    Far from being worse that Midtown from a “livable streets” perspective, I’ve always found Downtown better. I wish I still worked down there, though I’m told by those who do that it has never recovered from (the full decade of construction after) 9/11.

    The narrow streets mean slower traffic, with people walking in the non-pedestrianized streets as well as the pedestrianized streets. It’s like New York’s “Old Town.”

  • =v= San Francisco made put out the first of these in March, calling them “parklets.” I was the first in line when they finished, and I waited and waited for David Byrne or (dare I dream?) Janette Sadik-Khan to come have coffee with me, but they didn’t show up. Maybe it was the rain:

  • Bob Davis

    Pearl St. is very historic to students of electric technology; it was the site of Thomas Edison’s first “central station” power plant. Last time I was in the area, the site was vacant, but a plaque on an adjoining building commemorated this previous occupant of the property. As I recall, the site was now a parking lot, for the descendants of the products of Edison’s camping buddy, Henry Ford. Indeed, according to one story, Edison encouraged Ford to “keep at it” when he had doubts about the “gas buggy” business.

  • =v= E. Houston St. is as historic, being the site of Nikola Tesla’s laboratory. The site is actually in the street, as Houston has been widened since Tesla’s day, across from the old TIME’S UP! bike space. Tesla himself has no connection to the luxury electric car bearing his name.

  • I have worked downtown. The good/bad thing is that it empties out at 5 p.m. Not much street life after that, but it must be nice for the locals to have the place all to themselves.

  • LOve it… I wish we could migrate all sidewalk cafe to parking spaces… more space for pedestrian, .. although DOT and DCA will need to increase the cafe rates to recoup the parking fees..

  • JK: “There should be a creative strategy to get folks to comfortably spend time in public spaces during the cold months too.”

    Europe has such a strategy: the Christmas market. I’ve seen them in Germany and Spain and I’m sure there are others. Of course the really good ones are in large car-free areas.

  • mcas

    @christine berthet: Since Sales Tax is what actually pays for most transportation funding, I’m sure the streets will be better off with the cafes abilities to serve more customers.

    It will, in fact, likely be more profitable than the pennies recouped from private auto storage.

  • sickofit

    JSK sucks. She should just go away. As well as anyone trying to make “NYC” into their own image.

  • Mike

    …which is.. basically everyone who’s ever lived in NYC. Or anywhere.

  • Ah, a new troll (#17). Let’s not feed him.

  • I cant believe that this is really the first pop-up café (or parklet) in New York City. It is great way to attract foreign customers who are used to this kind of street sittings. But it seems that they forgot to install the sunshades for the hot summer days.

  • George

    It is nonsense to take away parking spaces to subsidize cheap table space for cafes.

    It appears that copyright pirate Mark Gorton is behind all of this!

  • eveostay

    Why? More restaurant customers = more taxes for NYC. Free parking = free parking for a handful of people.

    -eveostay (formerly J. Mork)

  • Great to see David Byrne in the photo.


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