As local COVID restrictions begin to loosen, restaurants are reopening for outdoor dining. Sunny, lively Downtown Long Beach is the perfect location for waterfront Sunday brunches, Pine Avenue quick lunches, and East Village upscale dinners. Here’s what you need to know about the “new normal” of Open Streets in Downtown Long Beach.
Health & Safety
First and foremost, the protection of patrons and staff members against COVID-19 is crucial. The City of Long Beach has a Health Order in place that requires restaurants to implement best practices to keep diners and staff safe. Key rules are that masks and face shields are required for all staff, tables must be spaced eight feet apart to allow people to stay six feet apart while seated, tents and canopies are allowed but there can only be one wall to ensure airflow, and masks must be worn by patrons at all times except while eating.
If a business is not practicing these new safety measures, they face penalties by the City of Long Beach including having their utilities shut off, fines, or in repeat cases, business closure.
In the East Village Arts District, Thai District is known for a gorgeous atmosphere and its modern take on Thai food using organic, locally grown produce. Their team keeps their patio COVID-safe by making sure that their tables are deeply cleaned and nicely spaced out. “We use a hospital-certified COVID solution to sanitize all our tables, chairs, and everything else,” said managing partner André Anglés.
Keeping up with the constant flux in City health orders can be difficult, so Martin Svab, owner of the popular quirky horror-themed pizza spot The 4th Horseman, ensures their small and dedicated staff is aware of updated rules and continues to enforce them. “We have worked really hard to create a great team that not only cares about the business but the safety of customers and fellow employees,” he said.
Long time fine dining staple 555 East Steakhouse developed a company COVID playbook which can be found on their website and is constantly updated. “Our outdoor dining spaces are created with guest and crew safety in mind. Minimal contact, distancing, safe placement of crew needs, strategic floor plans ensuring ample space, and so on,” says General Manager Nitin Kashyap.
There are three basic types of outdoor dining permits for businesses: parklets, which transform parking space(s) into outdoor dining, retail, or customer queueing space; sidewalk occupancy, which converts a portion of sidewalk for dining while leaving clearance for pedestrians; and curbside pickup, which designates parking area(s) as a 10-minute loading zone for quick food and retail pick up.
Navigating the process of designing and permitting can be confusing for some, especially when guidelines change, so the Downtown Long Beach Alliance (DLBA) helps businesses with the permitting process, answers any questions about guidelines, and provides 10-minute parking signs for pick-up zones. Stephanie Gonzalez, the Placemaking Manager at DLBA, notes, “We’re also working on creating a reimbursement grant to support businesses participating in Open Streets. Hopefully, that will be up and running soon!”
For others, designing patios and parklets has allowed businesses to show their creative side. While Thai District’s landlord recommended a contractor who helped them design and source materials for their award-winning patio, Anglés’ partner, Ty Theara, designed the color palette and decor, and Long Beach artist Kasia Rey painted the panels surrounding the patio.
The team at The 4th Horseman designed their parklet internally, and their good friend and Dark Art Emporium (DAE) business partner, Jeremy Cross, built it. DAE and The 4th Horseman are a natural pairing because of their passion for the darker side of art and food — and they are co-located. “Since art is such an important and integral part of what we do, we made sure to hire local artists to create beautiful murals on either side of the parklet structure that customers and Long Beach residents could enjoy,” says Svab.
555 East Steakhouse is one of the more luxurious restaurants in Downtown Long Beach, so they focused on carrying comfort and elegance to their outdoor space while maintaining the safety of their staff and patrons. “It has a European style of dining where it is open from all sides, which gives our guests a nice airy feel with the ocean breeze and a beautiful view of the Queen Mary. It has string lights and chandeliers to create a cozy ambiance.”
Balancing safety, comfort, and a seamless dining experience can be tricky these days. For 555 East Steakhouse, the expectation of service still stands no matter the ambiance, so they provide elevated service under the stars. “We pride ourselves on ensuring our guests receive the highest in quality, consistency, and value,” says Kashyap. “We have a long history here in the city with a great following of guests, so we wanted to make them proud and be sure they still have a great experience when they come to dine with us.”
At The 4th Horseman, guests can order and pay directly using a QR code on each table. Svab says, “If they want to order from us directly, we have an order station with a plexiglass barrier set up at the front entrance of our restaurant. We require everyone who enters to wear a face mask, and to only come in one at a time.”
Thai District also uses QR codes in lieu of real menus and has created more distance between tables. Anglés says, “So far it’s been a great success and people enjoy eating outside. For the most part, the weather is so nice in SoCal so I’m surprised we didn’t have more patios in the past!”
The Long Beach Open Streets Initiative is being reassessed on a quarterly basis for the rest of the year, or until the health order is lifted. The initiative was passed by the Long Beach City Council in early summer 2020 to support the local restaurant industry by providing them with multiple options to safely serve guests outdoors.
“My opinion is that outdoor dining is here to stay,” says Gonzalez. “We may see small changes as more people are vaccinated and indoor dining returns, but in general, people really enjoy the new outdoor dining scene. It creates a more vibrant atmosphere in our Downtown, provides restaurants more room for customers — and we have the perfect weather for it most of the year.”
Mayor Robert Garcia announced that the City wants to keep as many parklets as possible but hasn’t developed a specific process for transitioning the temporary parklets as-is to permanent. Right now they are directing folks to work through the existing process and use the permanent parklet guidelines. With the summer months coming, all three businesses are hoping to make this a permanent fixture.
Kashyap reflects, “The City has been great to work with so far, given this environment. Everyone is just trying to make it all work and we have found them to be very supportive of our cause.”