Sidewalk dining is all over the city, and I’ve found it to be an ok experience so long as you aren’t in the East Village. Granted the tables are tiny and most often rickety to the point where you don’t need a shim under them to keep them level but rather a shoe, but on a pleasant day it can be nice. Drinks are the best thing to have outside; food is touchier, if only for the exhaust, mystery drips of water hopefully from a/c units, and other environmental hazards.
The worst hazard in this neighborhood though is the people. I used to enjoy sitting outside at Café Pick Me Up on Avenue A and 9th Street and reading. The best thing about it was if you got bored reading or just wanted to take a break from your book for a few minutes there is always someone interesting walking by or something happening on the street. I’ve seen a woman chase down a purse snatcher, grab her purse back, slap the guy and then walk away. I’ve seen fistfights, crazy dressers, drunks that are amusing and sad to see, you name it, and now I prefer to sit just inside and look out. One guy used to be such a regular that the café would chase him away at first sighting.
Sure the chairs are more uncomfortable outside than in, but that’s not the reason.
I learned quickly; back when I smoked, to never put your pack of cigarettes on the table while you sit outside because everyone will ask you for one. It’s mostly the homeless or drunks who hassle you for them but also the random passers-by. Annoying.
Now it doesn’t matter if you smoke or not. If you are sitting outside, chances are good that someone will interrupt you. A grubby hand might shake a cup in your face or ask you for cash. Or, someone might just come up and gibber at you nonsensically. Sometimes they’ll work the line of people outside other times they seem to just pick one person that is their new favorite person in the world.
It’s not that I don’t feel for many of the people that come up, it’s the cigarette problem. As I’ve said, if I put a pack of cigarettes on the table, I’d get asked for them incessantly. It is the same problem that I have when I give a dollar to someone when I’m sitting outside, suddenly all the people who see that the doling of a dollar come over wanting one as well. It’s tough to deal with sometimes and though your skin gets thick it doesn’t get that much easier over time.
I’ve noticed less people sitting outside some restaurants and cafes now. These are more the places that don’t police their outsides as well and help their customers to have a nice hassle free dining experience. I think others have come to the same conclusion that I have, if you aren’t sitting outside in a courtyard, it’s just not worth it anymore. This isn’t Paris or Rome, its NYC and as Disneyfied as it maybe, it’s still not Main Street USA.