With smog blanketing New York City in a thick, orange halo from the Canadian wildfires this week, some restaurants are assessing how to handle operations, deciding whether to nix outdoor dining, or in some cases close outright.
The push notification went out to New Yorkers alerting them to air quality levels “unhealthy” for sensitive groups, now considered the “worst air quality on record” for the city, leading many to return to wearing masks. On Wednesday, Gov. Kathy Hochul called the situation an “emergency crisis” and encouraged New Yorkers to “stay indoors.”
The city has taken measures to limit New Yorkers’ outdoor activities, which include closing libraries early, suspending opposite side of the street parking, as well as canceling outdoor activities for kids. Some area colleges have opted to go remote. While it’s a less common phenomenon for New York and other East Coast states to have to decide whether to curtail outdoor activities due to air quality, out West, in states like California or Washington, restaurants and other businesses have more often had to cut back outdoor dining or close restaurants due to wildfires.
Despite the smog clearing up some, GrowNYC Greenmarkets are closed Thursday, June 8, and Friday, June 9, which includes locations in the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens as well as Manhattan’s Union Square Greenmarket and 97th Street Greenmarket. “We get 90 percent of our produce from the Greenmarkets from May to October,” says Jean-Georges Vongerichten, chef and owner of a handful of high-profile NYC restaurants including his namesake, “so of course this affects us.” He notes that chefs are working with farmers to try and get vegetables to restaurants. While the market may be closed, “the farmers don’t stop growing.”
Birria-Landia, an outdoor taco truck, announced that it would be closing its Manhattan outpost Wednesday, June 7, writing on Instagram: “Your health and safety are our top priorities,” adding that operations would resume on June 8 at 5 p.m.
Bed-Stuy cocktail bar Oddly Enough also announced on its Instagram stories that it would pause service on Wednesday night, along with Bushwick meadery Honey’s and Gowanus nightlife spot Public Records. A pop-up planned at Regina’s Grocery in Manhattan was called off for the night. Rippers, the Rockaways burger spot, shared it would be closed yesterday and would remain closed today due to the open-air nature of its setup.
More restaurants than not continued business as usual: Many dialed back outdoor seating rather than closing. “Last night, we closed patios at Hancock St., Bar Tulix, and Lure Fishbar,” says restaurateur John McDonald. “Tonight might be the same, but heading into the weekend, if customers want it, they can get it.”
Over in Brooklyn, places like Saint Julivert and La Vara in Cobble Hill, along with other restaurants in the neighborhood, didn’t leave an option to dine outdoors but were to capacity inside. Nene’s Taqueria in Park Slope, looked busy Wednesday evening. Nearby cars along the street were covered with ash.
The calculation for whether stay open may have been different for newer businesses trying to get their foot off the ground; Clio Goodman of bakery By Clio, for example, shared on Instagram that her whole team made the decision to stay open today.
Meanwhile, meme lord Eli Sussman, took to his viral hospitality Instagram account to poke fun at the ridiculousness of the situation for workers and customers alike. “How’s everyone’s air quality inside your 200 degree kitchen with no ventilation going,” he wrote.
Delivery workers continue to be on the frontlines — like COVID — despite poor air quality. “Normally during lunch, I open up my back door, I lay down. But today, the overwhelming smell of smoke literally kept me awake coughing,” a UPS driver told Vice. “I have allergies too. So the last two days, my allergies have been off the charts. I’ve been talking to other drivers throughout the day, they’re all coughing.” Eater has reached out to Los Deliveristas Unidos for more information.
Unhealthy levels of smog and the air quality alert are expected to last in New York until Friday.
Update: June 8, 2023, 4:30 p.m.: This article was updated to include information about GrowNYC temporarily closing.