The Salem Insider

Insiders guide to food, entertainment & living in Salem Massachusetts for tourists and residents.

Al fresco dining in Salem

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Categories: restaurant, summer

There is a new trend for Salem restaurants and its not some magical ingredient or new state mandated rule: it’s going au natural with dining outside.

Al fresco dining in Salem, MA is nothing new. Salem institutions like the Lobster Shanty and Finz have predicated their business model on it. Victoria Station has some great al fresco action overlooking the wharf and Salem Light. Even Capts. with their second floor balcony understands people’s desire to feel connected to the outdoors while refueling the body. However, recently a few things have changed and now everyone is clamoring to get in on the game.

The Lobster Shanty Salem

There was a time, not too long ago, that if you were in down town Salem and wanted to eat or drink outside under the stars (or an umbrella) your options were fairly limited. There was Rockafellas, the Garden at the PEM, the aforementioned Lobster Shanty and, depending on its state of flux, the business now currently known as Murphy’s.

A few years back Gulu-Gulu came to town and added outdoor seating. Other Salem restaurateurs took notice and started playing that game. Some failed miserably like Cafe Graziani who tried to stuff a table or two out their back door in an alley under the constant hum of their kitchen air conditioner (they now have added 3 tables in front on the Washington St. sidewalk). Others, like Fresh Taste of Asia and The Upper Crust, succeed despite not getting direct sunlight during prime dining hours.

Then the game changed again. Tavern in the Square opened in the old Salem News building, eventually adding one hundred seats outside and securing the rights to use the public sidewalk as part of their business much to the dismay of some residents and special interest groups. Like it or not, the president set by Tavern in the Square paved the way for more businesses to steak a claim to public walkways. Maria’s Sweet Somethings has expanded its outdoor seating. Down town new-comer, Puleo’s Ice Cream (next door to Cafe Graziani), has set up shop with tables and chairs on the  cramped Washington Street sidewalk.

New outside seating at the Lyceum

The latest restaurants to throw their hats in the al fresco ring are Greenland Cafe, with a sizable brick patio behind their location and a few feet away from the Greenland Cafe in the courtyard behind Church Street, the Lyceum just opened their patio featuring about 25 more seats.

Not to be left out of the quest for fresh air and sun shine, the city of Salem has stepped up and installed a bunch of tables and chairs in the Derby plaza area in front of Old Town Hall and around the East India Square fountain, free for everyone to use 24 hours a day.

I personally love good al fresco dining, when I can sit outside sipping a cocktail, eating a meal, not being distracted by loud noise or obnoxious smells and being treated to a nice view. Now, with patio dining  pretty much saturated in Salem we will have to wait till next summer to see what the future holds. My prediction for the next trend in Salem dining…roof decks.

5 Responses

  1. David Moisan says:

    I’m on the Commission on Disabilities, which has been watching outdoor seating and how it affects pedestrian traffic.

    We are not “special interests”.

    About Tavern in the Square, I (and the Commission) have no animus against the restaurant; I have dined there myself. The closing of the sidewalk might just be an overly-conservative application of the state liquor laws.

    It is not, as SRA’s Kevin Brennan put it, something for lazy people who can’t “walk an extra 20 steps”. I have the eyesight of a much older man, and I have chronicled on my blog how a legally blind person might see or not see the ropes that the restaurant uses while the dining area is open. Yet, I know good people who *would* have trouble making those extra 20 steps, on a perimeter sidewalk that is not as wide and easy to traverse as is the closed area.

    Many councilors, like yourself, don’t want to be the ones that made some restaurant close, or cancel plans. Neither do we. But the Commission is the only body in the city that advocates for all pedestrians downtown, and everywhere else in the city.

    You only have to look down Front St. to imagine what happens if our sidewalk space is allowed to be unmanaged. During heavy crowds such as we see in the summer–or Halloween–it can actually be dangerous.

    We have gotten much criticism along the lines of “special interests” and “being reactive”.

    That’s our job. Believe me, if the state were to rule that Tavern in the Square could open the sidewalk during dining, as it has done in Cambridge’s Central Square (where the sidewalk CANNOT be blocked; I’ve been there.), the Commission would be more than happy to take that as a win and move on. We have too much on our plate to do otherwise.

    But we have to speak out for the disabled–and the non-disabled–citizens, visitors and other denizens who use downtown.

    I can understand people don’t like our position and don’t agree.

    Just say so.

    Don’t try to tell me we’re “special interests”.

  2. Forrest Frazier says:

    @David, the Commission on Disabilities is a special interest group. Just look at your own mission statement “The Salem Commission on Disability is committed to working hard to make Salem’s community a better place to work and live for people with disabilities.” Its purpose is to help people with disabilities not to help every person. That is precisely what a special interest group is, a group that is looking out for a segment of the population.

    Be honest with yourself and others. Its because of people like you who take the time to look out for the special needs and interests of others that these groups exist. Just like the Council on Aging looks out for the special interests of our elderly, and the Salem Historical Commission tries to keep our historic districts preserved your special interest group tries to keep Salem friendly for people with disabilites.

    Pushing an occasional baby carriage around Salem I understand the impediments caused by some of these restaurants and shops in their attempt to offer Al Fresco dining. Its a major pain trying to walk on Front St near Maria’s and I can only imagine the hassle a person in a wheel chair must go through.

    I agree with Glen that TITS changed the game here in Salem but I wish the Licensing Board allowed the sidewalk to be kept open because its just a pain to walk around (I’m lazy). I also think that other obstacles like sandwich boards and push carts should be eliminated, but I guess that’s a rant for another time.

  3. Glen Hughes says:

    David,

    I have to agree with Forrest that your commission is “special interest”, and I’m cool with that. As we all know there are many special interests and voices at play in the down town area. We as a city all benefit when business prosper (I’m sure the Tavern makes some nice coin for the city coffers). So it is the best interest of the city to try and be accommodating to businesses in an effort to help them succeed without encumbering any of its people.

    Not all people feel this way. In fact, just this past weekend I was having a beverage at the Lobster Shanty when neighboring condo owners called to complain about the music. Apparently the two gigantic explosions on Cromby and Essex didn’t bother them but some DJ’d music (not as loud as the bands that play there) was offending their ears.

    The point here is that everybody wins when our down town is prosperous. And for that to happen everybody needs to be willing to make certain concessions and get along. New condo owners need to understand that a vibrant nightlife is part of Salem’s attraction. The city needs to work with the businesses. Finally the businesses need to work with the people to offer them what they want in a safe and positive environment.

  4. David Moisan says:

    “Special Interest”: In an environment where political ads from every party and every candidate vow to fight “special interests” that work against “regular people”, you may understand why I don’t take this term with a smile and a handshake.

    Nevertheless, we’re the only ones looking out for the well-being of people who use the pedestrian mall and the sidewalks downtown. It has been made clear to us that no one else other than the Mayor’s office will.

    • Glen Hughes says:

      I admit that many of the “special interest” advocates should be tarred, feathered and ridden out of town. The flip side to that coin is that if it weren’t for certain special interest groups women wouldn’t have a vote, we’d still have segregated lunch counters and people with disabilities would never be able to get into city hall.

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