New Haven: serving European terraces minus the rude French waiters

Picture this scene: It is a warm summer day. The crowded terrace of a café is overflowing and coffee drinkers are slowly fusing with the lunch eaters of the next door restaurant terrace. The waiters zigzag through the densely packed tables to provide all sorts or summer treats while keeping an eye on the terrace entrance because they know they can definitely fit one more table if they put it astride the gutter, between the trash and the kitchen entrance.

People are enjoying the warm summer breeze, having a great lunch with a detestable lunch guest, smoking a cigarette with their coffee, people watching in the passing crowd, or getting bothered by the cigarette smoke of the table next to them.

Now, if I give you a map, where do you place this scene? A Parisian café? A Berliner Gaststätte? A Venetian Ristorante?

Note to self, never give a map to an American…

Well, this melting pot scene is happening not in Europe but New Haven right now!

(Are you really that surprised? You are reading a blog about New Haven. This is not Between Two Cheeses, my French bootleg version of Josh’s blog — Editor’s note: wtf)

One surprising effect of the pandemic is the response of the New Haven City Hall to the cry for survival of restaurants, bars, breweries: Give them terraces!

Not unlike some child giving away breakfast-in-bed coupons for Father’s Day knowing well they will never be honored, the zoning department was handing out everything-is-a-terrace coupons.

  • “Oh you have a sidewalk? Sure, you can put a table and some chairs!”
  • “Oh you have a small part of a sidewalk? Sure, you can put a table and some chairs!”
  • “Oh you have a creepy back alley that smells like decaying corpses? Sure, you can put a table and some chairs!”

I am beginning to suspect the lumber shortage is not due to the shutting down of sawmills related to COVID contaminations as the experts claim, but because every restaurant in America built a shitty terrace with 2×4’s on a parking spot!

The table they sit me at in the newly opened DIY outdoor terrace

Do you wonder why Europe has so many terraces? It’s because there is genius in chaos. Try anything and everything, and see what sticks.

In Marseille, my former French hometown, terraces are a constant battle field and city hall election campaigns have been lost because of them. My favourite example was this bar which took over the newly built bike lane (paid with public funds!) with tables and chairs to the point the city had to paint a black square over the bike sign on the pavement and add a barrier to fortify the private terrace (with some more public funds…).

Image from “Marseille à la Loupe“, Facebook version of Between Two Rocks for Marseille

Pre-pandemic, terraces were a foreign concept for many Americans. However, every Thursday night, a handful of Spanish postdocs established a standing hangout on the steps of P&M and Enoteca Cassanova. The chairs and mini tables were merged into a banquet table where all the Europeans were recreating a late Spanish night with food, drinks, chats, laughs, and great memories. I often wondered why this concept was not popular with more people and when I asked my American friends, they told me they rather go indoors with their climate-destroying air conditioning.

Since COVID turned indoor spaces with A/C into poisonous death trap, New Haven has blossomed into a lovely ecosystem of outdoor spaces making the city so much more walkable and enjoyable. Last summer, outdoor spaces were a necessity for the survival of many businesses.

I was worried this wouldn’t last and people would go back indoors. But here we are a year later, in a much better place in Connecticut in terms of active cases, vaccination levels, and New Yorkers buying up all our houses. The terraces remain, the city repainted the colourful promenades. I think the terraces are here to stay!

Come out and enjoy the summer. And if you need help feeling more like you’re in Europe on your New Haven Terrace, just call me up, I’ll come play the role of the rude French waiter!

Oh Ron Ron Ron! Happy summer!

Photo courtesy of Town Green District, the team behind the great improvements downtown.

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