Big Apple restaurant owners are braving the cold — and Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s iron fist — thanks to an array of ingenious street and sidewalk setups.
Cuomo’s indoor-dining ban in New York City pushed struggling eateries to the brink, despite that indoor eating accounts for a negligible 1.4% of COVID-19 spread.
But restaurant owners and food lovers pushed back. Summer’s makeshift sheds and tents gave way to an array of adorable private dining igloos, greenhouses, domes, and rectangular enclosures resembling luxury passenger train cars. They light up the streets and sidewalks during long, dark nights that need all the cheer they can get.
It’s challenging enough to serve delicious food on the pavement, far from kitchens that are woefully under-staffed due to the pandemic.
But places must also endure a blizzard of restrictions and constant surprise inspections by the State Liquor Authority and the city’s fire, health, transportation and sanitation departments. The impossible-to-satisfy rules require enclosures to be completely dismantled if snow is recast and even such minutiae as how many inches wide planter boxes must be.
To celebrate their efforts, The Post asked its readers to share the alfresco eateries that turned them on the most.. And New Yorkers delivered, with a torrent of photos to make their cases:
1 Central Park West
Nougatine boasts five glass-wrapped “cabins” on its patio overlooking Columbus Circle.
The less-expensive sister of Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s flagship restaurant Jean-Georges, its menu is French-influenced Modern-American with a few Asian twists.
The cabins afford fine views of the city scene all around, including Central Park across the street and Time Warner Center.
Kudos also go to City Winery at Pier 26.
This hugely expanded second coming of the popular wine emporium has geodesic dome-like eating enclosures on its rooftop terrace. (It had to move when the building that housed its original facility in Soho was sold).
Enjoy its locally-made vino and simple American dishes along with stunning Hudson River and Downtown Manhattan views.
103 Greenwich St., Manhattan
At Don Angie (103 Greenwich St., Manhattan), creative riffs on old-school Italian-American cooking taste as good inside the stylish, pitch-roof street cabin with curtained entrances as they do indoors.
The house special is pinwheel-shaped lasagna for two filled with cheeses and pork-and-veal Bolognese.
49 Clinton St., Manhattan
High marks also go to Azasu (49 Clinton St., Manhattan), where compartmentalized “kotatsu pods” with all-around windows are appropriately atmospheric for this popular Japanese comfort-food spot.
The prix-fixe ($60 per person) hot pot winter menu should hold back any chill.
And the winner is…
234 W. 34th Street
Coolest of all is Fairfax Cafe at 234 W. 34th Street. Many others were also charming, but Fairfax stands out from the pack. The three-year old wine bar with a well-priced (nearly everything below $20) American menu for breakfast, brunch, lunch and dinner has a unique setting in which to enjoy them: a trio of white canvas tents with an Arabian Nights flair.
Fairfax’s whimsical, round “yurt village” pop-ups seat between four and six people each. They’re as sexy inside and out, decorated with colorful, exotic fabrics and linens.
Alfresco can mean al-freezo this time of year, even with electric and gas heaters. But Fairfax’s overhead heat units pour their warmth directly onto diners, unlike at other places where the heaters often point the wrong way. (Yurt bookings available only to American Express Card holders through Resy.com.)
Although my personal outdoor favorite is Restaurant Daniel’s sidewalk row of French Riviera-inspired cabanas, it’s appropriate that Fairfax owner Gabriel Stulman’s yurts took top honors with our readers. He’s suffered more than most from the pandemic and lack of government help. He recently told Total Food Service magazine that the pols “failed to support us because they’re incompetent and unintelligent.”
Stulman had to close two of his nine downtown places. He nearly lost everything last spring when a landlord tried to hold him personally liable for lease payments although he couldn’t even serve outdoors at the time. His impassioned advocacy helped persuade the City Council to suspend personal liability of commercial tenants impacted by government-mandated closures. (The legislation took effect in May and has been extended till March 2021.)
He told The Post that he got the idea for the yurts from his friend, former Eleven Madison Park co-owner Will Guidara. “Will and his colleagues along with American Express and Resy curated a list of a dozen restaurants across the country to be a part of this winter dining program and they invited Fairfax to be a part of the group,” Stulman said.
“It was a chance to bring a little magic when we could all use some.”