INDIANAPOLIS (WTHR) – Marion County restaurants are getting ready to reopen for outdoor dining only, starting Friday.
According to the Department of Business and Neighborhood Services, as of Wednesday afternoon, 44 restaurants had applied for special permits allowing them to expand their outdoor seating.
The list includes Coaches Tavern, the Columbia Club, St Elmo Steakhouse, Moe and Johnny's, Union Jack Pub, Golden Ace Inn and Weber Grill.
"I'm excited. We're ready to reopen and have our dining room on the patio or Illinois Street," Weber Grill General Manager Desmond Sutherland said. "We're excited to get out their for our guests and get our team back to work."
Tuesday the mayor's office announced plans to help restaurants, by closing portions of five major corridors to vehicular traffic.
Those streets include:
- Mass Ave
- Broad Ripple Avenue
- Georgia Street
- The southern half of Monument Circle
- Three blocks of Illinois Street downtown
DPW crews began barricading Illinois Street Wednesday morning. DPW Director Dan Parker said the closures were to not just make more room for outdoor dining but provide ample social distancing.
Walking down the center of Illinois Street he referenced the new orange, "social distancing please" signs.
"That's the reason we're closing streets, to give each other plenty of distance," Parker said. "We need people to think this is the new sidewalk for Illinois Street."
After barricading the streets, crews began cordoning off each restaurants outdoor dining area.
Harry and Izzy's staff spent time measuring their potential space and determining how many tables it would allow. The space would run the length of the restaurant.
Pointing to the right-of-way in front, Parker said, "this is all the space they'd gain. It's a pretty large space."
Getting the permits needed to transform streets and sidewalks into patio dining would normally be a long and complicated process. But the city fast-tracked the permitting process at no cost to restaurants.
It's not ideal. Restaurants taking advantage of the extra outdoor seating cannot go beyond 50 percent of their normal capacity and tables must remain six feet apart.
Sutherland said Weber Grill can accommodate 480 diners inside. Taking into account social distancing, they'll be able to seat 50-60 people. But he wasn't complaining.
"We're already taking reservations," Sutherland said. "We're excited to have tents, tables and chairs, linen tablecloths. It's going to look like a dining room but we're moving it outside."
The rules state that tents must be open on all sides. Each restaurant must also have an emergency weather plan.
While employees must wear face masks, it's not required of diners.
You can order beverages but they must consumed table-side. Alcoholic beverages cannot leave the dining areas. Though the streets are closed. It's not a "street party."
If you're wondering about restrooms, patrons will be able to use the restaurant's indoor facilities. The health department has strict cleaning and sanitizing requirements in place.
Also, restaurants cannot open before 11 a.m.
As for parking, Parker insists "there is plenty of parking downtown," but you may have to walk a block or two. He said garages off Illinois and Georgia Street, will be accessible.
Restaurants not located along the five corridors will also have opportunities to expand their outdoor space using adjacent parking lots or properties.
While a manager of Lincoln Square Pancake House on North Meridian told us Monday they would probably stick to carry-out, that's since changed.
A managing partner said, "knowing we have we will have the ability to serve customers outdoors, we will definitely be doing so. We are currently working on a plan."
For most restaurants it's trying to figure out the cost benefit. A number will no doubt opt to wait until indoor dining resumes.
"I can't wait to see what Illinois Street looks like Friday night at 7, in the middle of the dinner rush," Sutherland said. "I just can't wait to get that feeling back."
After learning about the street closure, a group of Mass Ave businesses have come together to send a letter to the city, saying that the closure should be immediately halted because they were blindsided by the news.
The group of businesses feel that the street closure decision was made "with no input or regard for the people it will impact."
Read the full letter below: