Eating Out: Outdoor, Indoor Dining Will Begin in Regal Form This Weekend

Chelsea Square, Cherry Street and Division Street will be transformed into a dining paradise as Chelsea’s restaurants look to open their expansive outdoor dining plans in collaboration with the City and Chelsea Prospers.

Already, the Traffic Commission approved the plans – which shut off some streets during the evenings – and the Council voted 10-0 on June 15 to approve the plans as well.

ROCA Crew members Ray Bennett and Elvin Martinez on Monday near the PORT Park were busy transforming pallets into parklets for the City’s outdoor dining effort, which begins this weekend.

“I think we’re trying to help these businesses just get back up and running,” said City Manager Tom Ambrosino. “The City thought that helping them have some outside space would be useful given the restrictions put in place on occupancy inside. The more space outside should be helpful for them. We’re trying to accommodate people and balance the need for downtown. It is a balancing act.”

All over Greater Boston and in Chelsea, as restaurants were allowed to begin using a portion of their indoor space again, the need for outdoor space has remained critical for operators to make up for the “lost tables” due to occupancy limits and social distancing inside. Meanwhile, many diners are skittish of returning to an indoor restaurant, and being able to choose an outdoor option is more comfortable, less risky.

The plan for Chelsea Square includes blocking off Second Street between the parks, and Winnisimmet Street outside of Apollinaire Theatre for dining space to accommodate any restaurant that would want to use it. There are also plans to block parking in Chelsea Square on Broadway for several hundred yards adjacent to the business storefronts.

Closures would also be on Division Street from 4th Street to Hawthorne, mostly to accommodate Tu Casa Restaurant. There would also be a closure of Cherry Street from Washington Avenue to 5th Street.

The dining closures would take place from 5 – 9 p.m. Monday to Thursday, and from 5-10 p.m. Friday to Saturday. They would not be open on Sunday. Police have committed to doing regular patrols and closely monitoring the areas during their operations, avoiding the need for a costly police detail. Alcohol would be served if restaurants have an existing liquor license, but City Solicitor Cheryl Fisher Watson said patrons must also have food to be able to have alcohol.

“You can’t just sit down and have a beer,” she said.

She also said operators are under strict scrutiny and the state has warned any bad behavior will result in the impounding of their liquor license.

“I want to support our restaurants,” said Council President Roy Avellaneda. “In advance of this, I went to the North End last weekend to see how they handled it. They were ahead of Chelsea on this. They didn’t do a part of Hanover Street, they did all of Hanover Street for outdoor dining and that’s a place with no parking…We need to give our businesses as much support as possible. I have faith in our administration and our Licensing Board to carry it out and be done well and well-monitored.”

The nitty-gritty of building such a grand experiment has fallen on the City in a collaboration with ROCA and other organizations.

Mimi Graney of Chelsea Prospers said they have a plan to transform 200 regular pallets into boundaries for parklets and another 30 pallets that would become 15 planters.

All week last week and this week crews from ROCA and other volunteers have been hard at work in the PORT Park extension building the pallets into useful barriers. Louis Gonzalez, a grad student from MassArt, has been hired by the City as a contractor this summer to assist the businesses in setting up their outdoor dining – mostly in the downtown area. However, Ambrosino said the program is open to any restaurant in any part of the city that can identify sidewalk space or a parking spot in front of their establishment.

He said the pallet program came out of a run of outdoor dining supplies.

“It’s kind of like masks at the beginning of the pandemic,” he said. “Every City and every restaurant in America is looking to buy these outdoor supplies and so there are none available. We’re trying to do our best in building our own and I think it’s going pretty well.”

Graney said she is particularly interested to see how the parklet on Division Street behind Tu Casa turns out. She said they concentrated a lot of effort on the forgotten street last summer, painting murals and trying to make it a pleasant walking place. She said with outdoor seating, colorful murals, good food and drinks, that area could be an “oasis.”

The effort starts in full this weekend.

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