Across the Sag Harbor business district, restaurants, struggling to overcome from the upheaval caused by the coronavirus pandemic, have embraced the concept of outdoor dining in ways never seen before. And in doing so, they have created a charming and inviting village streetscape that was on display for the Fourth of July weekend.
With the blessing of the village government, which has issued temporary permits for additional outdoor seating, restaurants are looking for ways to maximize their capacity as strict state regulations aimed at stopping the spread of the virus are gradually eased.
Restaurants that were limited to providing takeout meals only in the early days of the pandemic were at first allowed to operate at 25-percent capacity and are now allowed to increase that to 50-percent capacity, provided social distancing guidelines are being met.
If an award were to be given for best transformation of a once crowded employee parking lot into a dining oasis, it would go to Sen. The Japanese restaurant, which in the past has offered a limited number of outdoor tables overlooking Main Street, has dressed up the rear parking lot with artificial turf carpeting, potted privet and bamboo screens for privacy, and propane heat lamps to provide ambiance.
Jesse Matsuoka, one of the restaurant’s owners, said the outdoor dining has been a big hit, but he stressed Sen is taking measures to keep diners and waitstaff safe. Diners, for instance, are asked to use their cell phones to look up the menu and to wear masks whenever they are not seated. “It is a little more difficult,” he admitted, but better than the alternative of serving to a limited number of tables indoors.
Mr. Matsuoka is also part-owner of K Pasa, which has built a temporary 24-by-48-square-foot deck in its back parking lot, where picnic tables are properly spaced for diners. Sag Harbor Pizza, which in the past has had a couple of tables outside, has shut down its parking lot as well and placed chairs and tables with awnings for its customers to dine outdoors.
At the Dockside in the American Legion building on Bay Street, where outdoor dining on the terrace overlooking the harbor is a big draw, owners Stacy and Elizabeth Sheehan have spread out their tables to occupy the area usually reserved for the Sag Harbor Community Band to make sure they are properly spaced. They have also set up a lounge area in the shadow of a World War II 155 mm howitzer.
For the first time, the restaurant is taking reservations. Diners are asked to check out the menu online, and when they arrive, they are asked to give other diners a wide berth. “We are taking social distancing seriously,” Stacy Sheehan told a couple the other night.
The American Hotel, which has offered outdoor seating on its Main Street porch, has also expanded its outdoor options with a newly opened terrace behind the main dining rooms.
Even the Corner Bar, known for its hamburger platters, has gotten into the act, setting up tables outside on Bay Street in an area that once was a refuge for smokers. Jenny Doud, one of the bar’s managers, said diners love the opportunity to sit outside. “It would be great to do this every year,” she said.