New norm? Seaport bar to offer year-round open seating

Restaurateurs seek model for post-pandemic era

Rendering of Blockhouse Bar at 84 South Street (NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission)
Rendering of Blockhouse Bar at 84 South Street (NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission)

Restaurants and bars, hit hard by the pandemic, have been reeling for answers on how to bring foodies back.

One Seaport development offers a potential solution. Blockhouse Bar, a waterfront restaurant and bar on which the Howard Hughes Corporation could soon begin construction, will be an open space covered only by a wooden roof.

“Consumers are going to want spaces like this. I think that from a planning perspective, we have to be open to the idea that this could happen again, right?” said Jennifer Carpenter, a principal at Verona Carpenter Architects. “So I think there’s this long-term interest in places like this that allow for more outdoor options, year round.”

Howard Hughes owns multiple properties in the Seaport district, some of which have laid off staff during the pandemic. Blockhouse was in the works pre-Covid, but the company has stuck with it — and plans to bring the others back eventually.

“HHC remains committed to its world-class restaurants that have become community staples in the Seaport and plans to reopen them once it is safe to do so,” a spokesperson said in a statement.

Blockhouse stems from a 2018 request for proposals issued by the Parks Department to open a waterfront restaurant on agency land. A portion of the revenue would fund the nearby Imagination Playground and esplanade maintenance.

Woods Bagot, the architect of record, declined to comment on the project as it still needs approval from the Landmarks Preservation Commission. The community board will also weigh in.

While the project’s design could reassure Covid-conscious customers, other restaurants will not be as lucky. Opportunities for such open-air restaurants are limited, according to Carpenter. Many restaurants will have to make due with what they have.

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Although indoor dining has been banned indefinitely, outdoor seating has been embraced by many restaurants. At least 8,000 of the 27,000 eateries across the city have applied to reopen and nearly 40 miles of streets have been closed for pedestrian and restaurant use.

Carpenter said that allowing more outdoor seating will be vital for restaurants in a post-pandemic world.

“Once you take a site, and you overlay all these restrictions, a lot of times you end up with a plan where you can get very, very, very few tables,” she said. “So if some of those restrictions could be rethought beyond the Covid period, you would be able to get a lot more activity on the sidewalk,” Carpenter said.

For indoor dining, the solutions are less clear. While restaurants can enforce social distancing by placing tables further away from each other, ventilation remains a key concern.

A seminal study by researchers at the Guangzhou Center for Disease Control and Prevention tracked the coronavirus infection of 10 people who dined in a restaurant Jan. 24. It indicated that the virus spread from one diner to nine others in the same direction that the air conditioning was blowing.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has required malls to install particular air filtration systems prior to reopening, reasoning that they might prevent recirculation of airborne virus particles. Cuomo has encouraged other businesses, such as restaurants, to install such systems but has not required them to.

In postponing indefinitely the restart of indoor dining and drinking in New York City, the governor indicated those activities can expose people to a dangerous amount of coronavirus particles. “It’s the density in those places, and the amount of time you’re in those places, and the proximity,” Cuomo said July 1. “It’s hard to eat with your mask, it’s hard to drink with your mask, you’re sitting with the same people for a long period of time.”

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