Of the 22 locations announced as part of the city’s combined Open Streets and Open Restaurants programs, which expand restaurant seating options onto car-free streets for selected weekend times, only two are in Queens and both are in Bayside.
“The neighborhood in itself is a testament to why we were chosen to be one of the places in Queens to host and house something like this,” said Lara, the manager of Bourbon Street. “Bell Boulevard has been ever evolving and it’s been a destination for so many people ... [the community is] looking forward to supporting their local neighborhoods. They’ve been super supportive throughout the entire time — Bayside’s been a great neighborhood.”
The combination program began July 3 and shut down streets to vehicles from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. on Friday nights, and noon to 11 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. The expanded seating will last until Labor Day.
The Bayside streets are Bell Boulevard from 39th to 41st avenues and 41st Avenue from Bell Boulevard to 214th Place. The two buses that travel along the boulevard, the Q13 and Q31, were redirected along 35th Avenue and side roads during the scheduled hours.
Lara, who like other managers only wanted her first name used, said the first weekend was a success and that the community really enjoyed the al fresco dining experience, which had not been implemented on the Bell Boulevard streets beforehand. Eateries with outdoor seating had previously relied on rooftop or back patio space.
“There was a lot of movement and people in the neighborhood, everyone seemed to enjoy it,” she said, noting that the first weekend coinciding with the Fourth of July added an extra element of excitement. “Everyone had a really good time, and we had great fireworks in the neighborhood too.”
Though the program was set to begin that Friday, the Bayside restaurants were only allowed to expand their seating on Saturday night. They will be able to utilize the extra space every weekend moving forward. The unforeseen restriction stunted some restaurants who were looking forward to a bustling first weekend.
“We’re new to the area. We were supposed to have our grand opening when all this happened,” said Al, director of operations at The Cuban located at 39-17 Bell Blvd., which was closed July 4 for the holiday. “Right now [the program is] helping, but it’s not 100 percent what we need. We’ll see what happens this weekend ... We’ve got good support so far. Were trying to do the best that we can.”
Pyramids Hookah and Bar is the penultimate storefront on the Bell Boulevard and 41st Avenue corner, which connects the two Open Streets corridors. The manager noted that the restaurant, as well as surrounding eateries, were fortunate for the opportunity, but agreed that business along the popular strip is still struggling.
“We fill out tables, but we’re still losing a lot of customers,” said Paul. “They shut down the block, and we have to follow regulations — we measure the six foot distance [between tables] ... Everything’s going okay.”
The Open Streets program will continue to grow as the summer continues —another 10-20 corridors will be approved beginning Friday, July 17.