Have a Seat

Have a Seat

T he bistro tables are in bloom.

Lunchtime temperatures haven’t quite stabilized. On several days this past week it was plenty cloudy and chilly at 1 p.m. But, should you so desire, there are ample outdoor dining opportunities downtown. That goes for bar food and bag lunches as well as cutting-edge cuisine.

There are new, neatly buffed and polished tables outside of Elm Bar (a.k.a. “the old Rudy’s”) at the corner of Elm and Howe. Two coffee places—the independent coffee shop JoJo’s and the national Dunkin’ Donuts, across the street from each other at the corner of Park and Chapel streets—both offer outdoor seating opportunities. On College Street between Chapel and Crown there are the side-by-side-by-side sidewalk seating set-ups outside the Anchor Bar, the Owl Shop and Briq. Around the corner on Chapel, another restaurant, Basta, has offered outdoor seating since it opened over a decade ago. The Geronimo Bar & Southwest Grill at 271 Crown Street is renowned not just for its range of tequilas but for its large deck.

There are even outdoor tables outside places which don’t serve food or drinks. The Yale University Art Gallery, still experiencing a boom in attendance following the unveiling of its grand renovations last December, has graciously set out tables for gallery goers who need to break for coffee or lunch but still want to bask in the building’s artsy glow. The tables themselves (pictured above) have been artfully chosen to complement the European, bohemian feel of the museum. Food items glimpsed upon them appear to come largely from eateries right in the neighborhood: Atticus Bookstore Cafe, for instance, which is right across the street from the YUAG, or Book Trader Cafe (which has its own, year-round outdoor seating section) kitty-corner from the museum at York and Chapel.

There are comforts connected with outdoor eating that go well beyond the comfort foods being served. It can be a brighter and richer and more relaxing environment. You can gesture while telling a story, without worrying so much about smacking a waiter.

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One of the most-touted features of the 2010 renovation of the Yale-beloved dining institution Mory’s, where the Whiffenpoofs sing, was the addition of an outdoor patio. A block or two from Mory’s, you can sit outside and eat at Au Bon Pain (where one of the chairs is often taken by the venerable “flower lady” Annette) or at the vegetarian Indian restaurant Thali Too (tucked behind the Apple Store on Broadway).

There are those who dine regularly outdoors at Caseus Fromagerie & Bistro (93 Whitney Avenue, New Haven) who may never have been inside. The corner of Whitney and Trumbull is a lovely site for people-watching in the afternoon. An airy bistro feel is essential to Caseus’s character. Caseus has furthered this openness with its popular Cheese Truck, which can be found around town (and at the major outdoor festivals) dispensing grilled cheese sandwiches, tomato soup, salad and little else—what else is needed? Caseus—whether you’re talking about its Whitney-and-Trumbull home base or its mobile outpost—has a distinct and overwhelming cheesy aroma, the kind that announces its scrumptiousness and draws you toward its source, even if you’re just passing by with something else on your mind.

This is the magic of outdoor dining. Intoxicating cheese aromas—these ones augmented by herbed and spiced tomato sauce—are also synonymous with the pizza places lining New Haven’s most legendary restaurant-filled thoroughfare, Wooster Street. Outdoor dining options on Wooster include Anastasio’s, Tony & Lucille’s, Abate Apizza & Seafood and Consiglio’s.

Outdoor seating in New Haven is rather carefully regulated. Tables must be set up so as not to block foot traffic (or wheelchairs or sanitation carts) on already narrow and congested city sidewalks. Not every business that wants to seat customers outside is allowed to do so. Some had never even contemplated such a thing. But then, in 2004, came the statewide law which forbade smoking indoors at all restaurants, bars, cafes and taverns (with the exception of the Owl Shop, which gets by on its “tobacco shop” classification). Suddenly, there was an explosion of enclosed outdoor seating and deck areas, comprising a new model of the old “smoking section” people had become coughingly accustomed to inside.

The new rules, intended to remove the threat of secondhand smoke in workplaces, had the additional benefit of lessening the number of people who smoked in public in general. As the number of smokers dwindled, the outdoor smoking sections simply became outdoor seating, and a range of customers availed themselves of these new options. Now it’s not uncommon to find outside seating areas where nobody is smoking at all.

Eating outdoors is not about doing something you can no longer do indoors. It’s its own reward.

Written by Christopher Arnott.

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Christopher Arnott has written about arts and culture in Connecticut for over 25 years. His journalism has won local, regional and national awards, and he has been honored with an Arts Award from the Arts Council of Greater New Haven. He posts daily at his own sites www.scribblers.us and New Haven Theater Jerk (www.scribblers.us/nhtj).

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