The sheds they are a-crumblin’ — and the sooner they all do, the better.
New York City’s street-based dining structures are quietly going the way of “show your vaccination card” at some of the hottest and most famous of eating establishments, a Post survey found. It’s about time!
I’m not talking about the city’s overdue crackdown on dangerous or unused shanty-town shacks that’s claimed nearly 200 stinkers — including Pinky’s on East 1st Street, which had the chutpzah to sue the city over it.
I mean the unheralded, entirely voluntary takedowns by owners who find that these structures are shunned and despised by customers (not to mention neighbors). Once necessary, they’re now too costly to run and maintain for too few patrons. And they’re festering grounds for vagrants and vermin, to boot.
Sheds recently came down without fanfare at premier spots including Buddakan, Keen’s Steakhouse, Locanda Verde, BLT Prime, Tao Downtown, Tsuru TonTan and Cellini. This despite construction costs of up to $100,000.
Redesigned Noz Market uptown returns this week from a temporary shutdown minus the toolshed-like counter it once had on East 75th Street.
More modest spots, like the Upper East Side’s Blue Mezze, Canyon Road and Finnegan’s Wake — are chopping their sheds in half
“Very few people are utilizing them now, no matter how elaborate,” said veteran restaurant consultant Shelley Clark. “To properly serve these spaces, additional staff — which is expensive and not easy to find — is often required. It’s a perfect storm destroying the sheds.”
Andrew Rigie, president of the New York City Hospitality Alliance, attributed owners’ declining zeal to being “very frustrated” over not knowing when the city would announce guidelines for the sheds, which were launched as emergency measures during the indoor-dining bans of 2020 and 2021.
The rage to raze them started early last year at popular Japanese udon noodle mecca Tsuru TonTan, which has locations on East 16th and West 48th streets. “We were not able to please our guests with outdoor conditions such as loud noise, and the scenery was not the prettiest,” said partner Joji Uematsu.
More recently, uptown Lexington Avenue favorite BLT Prime removed its half-block-long shed after a driver smashed his car into it, leaving it too damaged to keep up.
A car that rammed into the shed in front of Cellini on East 54th Street was also the last straw for owner Dino Arpaia, who took the remains down this week. In addition, he was fed up with vagrants and drug addicts sneaking in overnight.
“Good riddance,” Arpaia said.
Basta Pasta on West 17th Street leveled its shed a few months ago when, “Nobody wanted it and it created too many problems,” an employee said.
Legendary steakhouse Keen’s on West 36th Street yanked its street cabin — which was decorated with cheap hints of the atmospheric, century-old dining rooms — in November. “It was time to strip off the Band-Aid,” said a manager. (Now if only next-door Rag Trade would take the hint.)
Downtown, Stephen Starr’s giant Buddakan has already pulled its handsome outdoor seating setup. “No one any longer wanted to sit in the enclosure in colder weather. The upkeep was pricey as well,” said Starr Restaurants operations director Brandon Wergeles.
Gone, too, is the shed at Andrew Carmellini’s Locanda Verde in Tribeca. “The demand in cold weather has subsided a bit,” managing partner Luke Ostrom explained. “That, and the structures made from mostly wood had deteriorated over the last couple of years.”
He said he hoped to “recreate” the street cafe “in the warmer months based on the [still-awaited] updated city rules and regulations.”
More are in the offing. Michael’s, the media mecca on West 55th Street, plans to take down its street shed in the spring (although not its other outdoor seating).
Good luck to those expecting help from the city with the new regulations:. The program won’t be announced until 2024.
For a taste of what owners will face then, consider that City Hall’s all-thumbs bureaucracy is making life hell even for sidewalk cabins, which are less problematic than ones located on the street.
Bureaucracy helped bring down the sidewalk set-up at two-Michelin-star Gabriel Kreuther on West 42nd Street, which resembled a tiny village. Partner Eben Dorros said that ever-changing and contradictory rules from an alphabet soup of agencies proved impossible to comply with.
“The worst thing was, there was nobody you could call” to slice through the confusion, Dorros said.
Yes, sheds are still popular and important to business at certain places.
“A lot of people want to eat outdoors, especially families with children,” said Il Gattopardo owner Gianfranco Sorrentino, who equipped his comfy tent with tablecloths, functional heating and proper ventilation.
But the new requirements are likely to straitjacket designs with “uniform” standards — and will possibly ban wooden structures altogether.
That could spell the end of the handful of truly charming, creative treasures such as at Fresco by Scotto in Midtown, Don Angie in the West Village and Tamarind in Tribeca.