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Pearl Street Sidewalk Cafe Will Replace Parked Cars with Green Space and Public Seating

By Julie Shapiro | July 12, 2010 10:54am

By Julie Shapiro

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

FINANCIAL DISTRICT — A pop-up sidewalk cafe is coming to Pearl Street, bringing a taste of San Francisco to the Financial District.

But unlike typical sidewalk cafes, this one will extend out into the street, replacing a row of parking spaces with a wooden patio ringed by lush plantings and filled up with public seating. The space, located in a stretch of Pearl Street between Coenties Slip and Broad Street, is scheduled to open by the end of the month and will stay up until November.

“This is the very first time we’re doing it anywhere in New York,” said Nina Haiman, with the city Department of Transportation. “If it’s successful, we might want to expand it.”

The idea for the cafe came from several Pearl Street restaurant owners, who wanted to offer potential summertime customers outdoor seating, despite the fact that their sidewalk is too narrow for a regular sidewalk cafe.

Organizers decided to get creative with the existing space, and designed an 84-foot-long by 6-foot-wide platform that sits up against the Pearl Street curb.

The pop-up café is modeled on similar temporary spaces in San Francisco.

Prashant Bhatt, owner of Bombay’s Indian restaurant, said his business fell 20 percent after Goldman Sachs moved out of the neighborhood, but he noticed that the outdoor cafes on Stone Street were always filled with people. Bhatt, 45, hopes the pop-up’s 10 public tables will draw more people to Pearl Street.

“We’re excited about it,” Bhatt said. “It’s going to help us.”

Bhatt and Lars Akerlund, 39, owner of the recently opened Fika Espresso Bar, are splitting the cost of the furniture, plantings and the $15,000 wooden platform on which the cafe will rest. Waitstaff will serve food to the patio area, but it will also be open to pedestrians regardless of whether they order food, they said.

The restaurant 1834 Bar and Burger was supposed to participate as well but was forced to close their business several weeks ago, a fate Bhatt and Akerlund hope to avoid.

The pop-up cafe will be in place until the fall, and if it’s successful, it will return next year, organizers said.

Akerlund hopes to eventually convince the city to close the block to traffic entirely and said the cafe is a good first step.

The proposal got a mixed reaction from Community Board 1’s Financial District Committee Wednesday night.

Several board members said the cafe looked “amazing,” but others lamented the loss of five parking spaces.

Akerlund said the city might add one extra space farther up the street as compensation, and a DOT staff member said the agency would look into other places to add parking as well.