Expanded outdoor dining corrals have been installed for the season in West Hartford Center and Blue Back Square.
By Ronni Newton
April showers bring May flowers – and along with the grass turning green and leaves returning to the trees, spring in West Hartford means the return of expanded outdoor dining.
Concrete as well as plastic barriers were deployed by West Hartford’s Department of Public Works in the Center and Blue Back Square on Tuesday and Wednesday, and by Thursday, which happened to be Cinco de Mayo, many of the restaurateurs had tables and chairs in place which were soon filled with diners enjoying the sunny and mild weather.
West Hartford has earned a reputation as an outdoor dining “Mecca,” and the prevalence of outdoor dining has helped make West Hartford a destination, and increased foot traffic for other businesses as well.
In 2021, West Hartford had 1,500 outdoor dining seats, with roughly 1,100 of those in the Center and Blue Back Square, Economic Development Coordinator Kristen Gorski said. While there have been a few changes in configuration and a few new restaurants taking advantage of expanded outdoor dining, the number of seats is roughly the same.
Roughly 70 parking spaces have been taken away in the Center and Blue Back to accommodate the corrals this year.
Because the state extended the streamlining of outdoor dining through April 2023, Gorski said the establishments that participated last year didn’t need to apply for new permits for 2022.
There are several changes in West Hartford Center, however, including an use of an outdoor dining corral by Ichiro on Farmington Avenue and by Song on LaSalle Road, the latter of which means there are three contiguous corrals for Bricco, Song, and Harvest.
Meçha Noodle Bar on Farmington Avenue has outdoor dining corral space on Farmington Avenue this year in lieu of some sidewalk space. The grade of the area on the sidewalk where their outdoor dining was located last year presented challenges, Gorski said.
In Blue Back Square, there are some minor changes including that World of Beer has chosen not to use the expanded outdoor dining corral in order to preserve the on-street parking for takeout on Isham Road, Gorski said.
The Place 2 Be has fewer outdoor dining seats this year in order to allow some of the space in the corral to be used by the restaurant next door on Memorial Road, Kaliubon Ramen, which has elected to participate in expanded outdoor dining this year.
Several of the dining corrals are already well on their way to becoming “gardens of eating,” with planters and trees adding to the ambiance. But just like the trees and flowers that grow and fill in as the season progresses, the beauty of the dining areas will continue to expand, particularly when artists arrive on the scene to create murals.
The public is invited to observe as artists, chosen by jurors from the West Hartford Art League, create unique ArtBarrier murals on concrete barriers in the Center and Blue Back Square. Paint days are Sunday, May 15 in Blue Back Square and Sunday, May 22 in West Hartford Center when during the hours of 6 a.m. and 2 p.m. the impacted roadways will be closed to traffic while the painting takes place.
Gorski said the paint days are a great opportunity for pedestrians to stroll through the street, and sidewalk chalk has been donated and will be available for children to add their own artistic touches to the roads and sidewalks.
The West Hartford Art League is thankful to Jerry’s Artarama for donating the brushes that the artists will use.
Once the murals are complete, the West Hartford Art League will be holding a contest for the public to vote on their favorite ArtBarrier. The artist who wins this “Peoples Choice Award” will receive a $200 cash prize. According to Executive Director Roxanne Stachelek, the details will be announced once the project has been completed.
Artists chosen to participate in this year’s ArtBarrier program include: Sneh Detroja, Kelly O’Donovan, Brian Colbath, York Mgbejume, Michael Borders, Lindsey Schmucker, Wing Na Wong, Annie Hayami, Samuel Ferri, Stella Guggina, Naiya Gonzalez-Breen, Yvonne Espinoza, Stefania Munzi-Logus, Julia Fahey, Kiley Mattsson, Beth Reynolds, and Drew Unikewicz.
Outdoor dining on patios – which had become nearly ubiquitous in West Hartford over the past two decades – continues to be a valuable resource for restaurants that have been hard-hit by the pandemic, and the expanded outdoor dining that began in 2020 has been a great success in town.
After the success of outdoor dining in 2020, West Hartford officials began considering an ordinance change in advance of the 2021 season, but a bill passed by the legislature in March 2021, which codified the governor’s previous executive order, allowed for expanded outdoor dining through March 31, 2022. That measure initially made updating the town’s zoning unnecessary until this year, and now will not be needed until May 2023.
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