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While D.C. Begins Reopening, Restaurants Can Add Seats in Sidewalks and Empty Lots

The city rolls out expanded outdoor seating for businesses that secure a permit

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Outdoor seating is already in place in Miami
CHANDAN KHANNA/AFP via Getty Images

Parking lots, sidewalks, and alleys around D.C. will soon be filled with tables where customers can buy food and drinks while the city enforces an outdoors-only seating policy for bars and restaurants.

Following her reopening announcement earlier this week, Mayor Muriel Bowser’s “stay-at-home” order officially expired today. Restaurants and bars are now allowed to open up patios, rooftops, and gardens for sit-down service with 6 feet of distance between tables. Licensed food sellers that don’t have those outdoor facilities — or want to expand on the limited space they do have — can also seek permission from the city’s transportation authority to expand into unconventional eating and drinking spaces.

An application form the city has posted using Google’s platform says all “restaurants, licensed food establishments, and non-essential retailers” that want to expand into public or private space can do so as long as they follow reopening restrictions. After registering with the city, businesses that want to add or expand outdoor seating must also apply for a public space permit in the city’s Transportation Online Permitting System (TOPS).

According to the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Commission, public spaces up for grabs include “alleys, sidewalks, “streateries” (extended curb lane use), plazas, and full travel lanes.” Private spaces include “patios, courtyards, and surface parking lots,” and “all new and expanded space must be on ground or street level.”

Businesses who want to sell alcohol from expanded spaces must register with ABRA here. The liquor authority requires that they offer at least three prepared food items, and every customer has to buy at least one per table. D.C. bars have already been getting clever with a similar rule in place for takeout drinks by selling popcorn, PB and J, and even mayo sandwiches.

Every eating and drinking establishment that is licensed to serve alcohol must implement a reservation system, which could be as simple as keeping a list of call-ins or as advanced as instituting an online waiting system. Reservations are encouraged, but not mandatory, for food sellers who do not offer alcohol.

Alcohol service is limited from 8 a.m. to midnight every day, so last call is a little earlier than it used to be, and ABRA has continued to ban activities that encourage gathering, like live music, dancing, and darts.

Here are the city’s full guidelines for restaurants and diners:

Last night, high-traffic Dupont Circle Tex-Mex restaurant Lauriol Plaza was already setting up tables in its parking lot.

Restaurants such as Lauriol Plaza, Duffy’s Irish Pub on H Street, and Shaw wine bar Maxwell Park led a growing contingent of places that plan to participate. Meanwhile, several prominent D.C. restaurant and bar owners representing places such as Tail Up Goat, Emilie’s, and Coconut Club have expressed that they’re still uncomfortable with the idea of potentially exposing staff members and customers to COVID-19. The Washington Post reports that the swatch of U Street bars overseen by the Hilton brothers (Marvin, the Brixton, American Ice Co.) and restaurants in Dupont and Columbia Heights from Jackie Greenbaum (El Chucho, Bar Charley, Little Coco’s) are sitting out this weekend, too.

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