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Historic Harlem Neighborhood Gets An Art-Filled Outdoor Dining Setup to Survive Winter

The outdoor dining structures near Strivers’ Row are a collaboration between local Black-owned restaurants, community organizations, and architecture firms

Outdoor dining structures for restaurants in Harlem
Restaurants adjacent to Harlem’s historic Strivers Row now have heated outdoor dining setups
Kevin Queiroz for New Kingston Media

When diners think of Harlem restaurants, most are typically drawn to ones located along Frederick Douglass Boulevard and Lenox Avenue. But a new heated outdoor dining setup along a two-block stretch adjacent to the historic Strivers’ Row is looking to bring attention to restaurants further up north.

The Renaissance Pavilion, located along Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd, between West 137th 139th Streets, is a collaboration between local non-profit Harlem Park to Park, WXY Architecture + Urban design, the Black-owned restaurants guide EatOkra, UberEats, and PR firm Valinc.

Unveiled earlier today, the pavilion includes multiple outdoor dining structures featuring artwork from local artists and heaters for diners to eat outside during the winter months. Each of the structures vary in size and correspond with the footprint of each participating restaurant. The outdoor structures were created entirely free of cost for the restaurants, and will serve as a permanent outdoor dining feature along the street, now that NYC has allowed outdoor dining year round.

The exterior of a restaurant with some art-packed scaffolding
Ruby’s Vintage Harlem’s outdoor dining setup getting its finishing touches over the weekend
Kevin Queiroz for New Kingston Media

“Restaurants are central to this community, and when you invest in the hospitality industry, you literally help rebuild these communities,” says Nikoa Evans-Hendricks, the co-owner of Ruby’s Vintage, one of the restaurants that benefited from the program, and the executive director of Harlem Park to Park.

Along with Ruby’s Vintage, the other participating businesses with new outdoor dining setups include: local LGBTQ bar Alibi, the Row Harlem lounge, West African spot Ponty Bistro, Ma Smith’s Bakery, and Harlem Chocolate Factory. The restaurants each have between four to 18 seats along the street — some with scaffolding designed by the firm Urban Umbrella — located atop what was once restaurant parking spaces that have opened up with the city’s outdoor dining program.

The project has been months in the making, and the architecture firms involved with the project designed the outdoor dining structures in such a way that at least 50 percent of the space allows for airflow. Evans-Hendricks says the state’s latest restrictions on outdoor dining released last week don’t impact the structures, which she says have multiple openings on all sides to allow for air circulation.

In the summer months, the scaffolding portion will come down, but the streetside structures will remain the same, Evans-Hendricks says.

Third-party delivery companies like Grubhub and UberEats have come under fire during the pandemic for charging restaurants high fees to use their service, yet UberEats’ funding is central to making this project a reality. Evans-Hendricks says the company approached Harlem Park to Park for the project, and acknowledged that it had work to do to change its perception. Evans-Hendricks says the Renaissance Pavilion represents a meaningful investment in the community, and says UberEats remained open throughout the process in involving local stakeholders.

“This is a big step in how we should support restaurants,” says Evans-Hendricks. “This will serve as a model for how Uber should be approaching communities.”

In the coming months, the Renaissance Pavilion will host a series of events including the upcoming Kwanzaa celebration on December 26, and a holiday market in January highlighting local producers.

A zoomed out at look at an art-filled scaffolding in front of a restaurant
The scaffolding will come down in the summer but the outdoor dining structures will remain
Kevin Queiroz for New Kingston Media

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