Abandoned dining in NYC is now a haven for the homeless

These eating disasters turn into huts for homeless, giant landfills and traffic-blocking storage sheds.

Outdoor dining structures that were once supposed to pump life into the struggling restaurant industry during the COVID-19 pandemic are now abandoned after eateries closed or focused on indoor dining.

Until recently, three abandoned al fresco setups sat on just a single formerly busy block of LaGuardia Place in Greenwich Village between Houston and Bleecker Streets.

A graffiti-covered outdoor hut belonged to Bosie, a French restaurant that served afternoon tea and whose doors have been padlocked since August. It was only removed late last month.

Next door at Le Souk, which in its pre-COVID glory days boasted belly dancers and a hookah, another wooden structure stood empty.

And the third abandoned setup provided outdoor space for the former GMT Tavern, which closed after a harmful fire on April 19th.

The souk structure
The shed at Le Souk is empty.
Helayne Seidman

“These sheds are eye to eye – people are now putting rubbish in them. Why are they up months after restaurants are shut down? ”Someone grabbed in a July complaint to the Department of Buildings that said no violation was warranted.

But a local resident called the area under the dining room a “breeding ground” for rats and expressed little hope that the structures would soon be removed.

“It’s not financially possible for landlords or (former) tenants to take them down, and the city does not have the political will to get it done,” he said.

GMT Tavern
GMT Tavern’s former outdoor dining structure is now scrawled with graffiti.
Helayne Seidman

Leif Arntzen said he sees homeless people sleeping in the eateries on his Cornelia Street block “” all the time “after restaurants close in the evenings or on days when they are not open.

The covered shed outside the Uncle Chop Chop restaurant, which is a step up from plain plywood, is popular, he said.

“I think they choose it because they have this kind of AstroTurf on the sidewalk that they can just lay down on,” said Arntzen, part of the CUEUP alliance opposed to making the “open restaurant” program “permanent.

Bosie dining room
Bosie’s outdoor dining room was only removed last month after closing in August.
Helayne Seidman

Residents complained last spring that an unused and dirty shed outside Ajisen Ramen on Mott Street in Chinatown became a place to sleep for the homeless. Then the restaurant put doors on it and started using it as a storage cupboard, with only a lonely dining room sitting inside on a recent night, according to a local observer.

The only thing that occupied the outdoor shed for Michelin-starred Jua, a Korean restaurant in the Flatiron district, on a recent weekday evening were cardboard boxes.

Restaurants are not allowed to use their outdoor cabins as storage, according to the Department of Transportation, which oversees the open restaurant program.

Assemblywoman Deborah Glick, representing Greenwich Village, Soho and Tribeca, tweeted Tuesday about an empty structure outside a restaurant that never opened and said “huge structure is back from JUNE with various violations- stop and give up @NYC_DOT and still no action.”

Living room doors locked
Outdoor dining structures often remain, even after their associated restaurants are closed.
Helayne Seidman

The shed is not abandoned, according to DOT.

Nearly 12,000 outdoor setups dot the city’s streets, of which 1,202 are located in the roadway; 4,295 on the sidewalk; and 6,047, which is a combination of both sidewalk and street, according to DOT statistics.

The DOT said it only considers a dining room as abandoned if the restaurant is closed permanently. It has instructed the sanitation department to remove only 21 of these deserted eateries throughout the city.

But there are many more left.

A total of 136 complaints about abandoned eateries were placed at 311 between May 6 and September 23, although some were for the same restaurant, city records show.

Village Den, the restaurant business of “Queer Eye” host Antoni Porowski, closed its doors in July, leaving the plywood frame for its outdoor dining room setting empty on West 12th Street.

Palma at 28 Cornelia Street
A homeless man is seen inside a shed in Palma at 28 Cornelia Street.
L. Zecchino

It took more than two months and many complaints to remove the shed – which had become a storage area – belonging to the former Fabianes restaurant on North Fifth Street in Williamsburg.

“It took measured parking for over two months,” said Shannon Phipps, head of Berry St. Alliance in Williamsburg and Greenpoint, noting that there were several other unused setups in the area. “I suspect that the longer this program exists, the more these conditions will emerge, especially because there is no enforcement, management or oversight.”

Two seemingly unused wooden corals flank the Slaughtered Lamb Pub on West 4th Street. The bar manager said the structures kept getting hit by cars or trucks and he did not want to place patrons there.

The DOC Wine Bar in Brooklyn had two sheds, one of which was used for storage. A restaurant manager said it was removed last week after the city said it was too close to a fire hydrant.

outdoor dining structure
GMT closed after a harmful fire on April 19.
Helayne Seidman

The restaurant was not the only one that violated the rules.

A city council survey of 418 downtown Manhattan restaurants released in August found that 93 percent did not comply with at least one DOT guideline, including blocked fire hydrants, barriers that stretched too far into the street, and setups on streets that were too narrow.

The DOT said it was reviewing the rankings in the report and would meet with Council President Corey Johnson’s office “soon to discuss the next steps.”


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