On a sunny, warm day as today is forecast to be, it may be tough to find seats outdoors if you want to dine al fresco in Saratoga Springs.
“In good weather they fill right up,” said Jeff Clark, president of the Downtown Business Association.
Noticing the trend toward people wanting to sit outside, enjoy the breeze and people-watch, eateries have added more outdoor seating in the last several years downtown.
Sperry’s and Maestro’s are the biggest establishments that have expanded their outdoor seating in the last few years, and both have enjoyed success, Clark said.
Sperry’s recently added 75 seats to its backyard patio.
“It’s quite a big deal, and they’ve really, really spruced it up,” Clark said. “They’ve done a really classy job with it.”
Maestro’s at the Van Dam expanded its outdoor seating — on the building’s expansive porch — when it moved into the former hotel on Broadway from its digs farther south on the city’s main drag.
“It was a fairly small location,” Clark said of the previous spot. “I don’t think they had more than four tables.”
Now Maestro’s has about 20 tables outside, he estimated.
Even smaller establishments such as Johnny’s Gourmet Italian Ices on Broadway offer cafe seating — a couple of tables where customers can relax while they enjoy a cool treat.
Two restaurants have floated a European-style proposal to add outdoor seating next to their establishments.
Seven Horse Pub and Hattie’s Chicken Shack on Phila Street would like to convert Lena Lane, an alley that runs between their businesses, into a seasonal outdoor seating area.
“In a lot of bigger cities you see these really quaint alley cafes,” said Jasper Alexander, co-owner of Hattie’s Chicken Shack with his wife, Beth.
The City Council last week gave the plan a thumbs-up and is negotiating a lease with the two restaurants, as the alley is a public street that the city would continue to own.
The restaurants would pay about $50,000 to install temporary improvements like heavy-duty planters to keep cars out, lighting, tables and probably fans to keep diners cool, said Michael Toohey, a Saratoga Springs attorney who represents both restaurants.
They also would need to obtain approval of the design by the city’s Design Review Commission and make sure the state Liquor Authority approves.
“Nobody would want this thing to be done in anything other than a tasteful manner,” Toohey said.
Unlike restaurants on Broadway, the Phila Street eateries cannot install sidewalk cafes because the sidewalk is too narrow. Several of the restaurants have outdoor seating nonetheless — Bailey’s, Peabody’s and Hattie’s behind their buildings and Irish Times on the roof.
But Seven Horse Pub doesn’t have those options, and Hattie’s would like more seating space possibly for diners but more likely for those waiting for a table who would otherwise be standing in the alley.
Alexander would like to give his customers at Hattie’s the option of sitting down outside to have a cocktail or wait for a table.
“I’m lucky enough to have the issue that people are willing to wait an hour or two for dinner, but I have nowhere to put them,” he said.
With 40 seats inside and another 40 on the back deck currently, he’s already near the limit that the tight quarters in the kitchen can handle without compromising the food’s quality, Alexander said, so he’s not sure whether he’ll be able to serve food at those outdoor tables.
“I’m not sure I could handle another 35 seats,” he said. “Even if we don’t serve food it’s going to be a great attraction for the town.”
His restaurant’s portion of the outdoor seating would be toward the back of the building, near the library side, while Seven Horse Pub would take the seating at the front, closest to Phila Street.
Joe Mack, owner of Seven Horse Pub, said the pub currently seats 148 people inside.
“Outdoor seating’s enjoyable to the public,” he said.
The alley is a public street that vehicles use to cut between Phila Street and the library.
Both restaurant owners say the alley presents a safety hazard because drivers have difficulty seeing around the buildings, the two-way alley is too narrow for two cars to pass each other, and there are no curbs.
Scrapes on the sides of the buildings are evident from the times cars tried to pass each other, Mack said.
“There’s no designated sidewalk for people to walk,” he said.
Children ride their bicycles in the alley, and people walk down the middle of it on their way to and from the library.
“Even if the car’s only going 10 miles an hour, if the kid’s in the alley it’s still a dangerous situation,” Mack said.
The restaurants’ plan calls for about 12 tables for each restaurant with a meandering 5-foot pedestrian path in between.
The alley already has stamped pavement made to resemble cobblestones in the middle, so it will be attractive for outdoor seating, Toohey said.
He said the city fire department determined the alley is not wide enough to be a safe fire lane, so there’s no conflict there with having outdoor seating.