Outdoor dining expands to Santa Barbara’s main corridor, many hope it becomes permanent
Restaurants in the 500 block of State Street have started using the arterial’s new promenade setup to its full extent by sectioning off seating areas going into the street, an arrangement that has proven to be a hit with clientele and one that many hope is here to stay.
Late last month, the Santa Barbara City Council voted to give foodservice businesses permission to erect temporary outdoor dining areas in an effort to help local restaurants increase their business as the number of customers they could serve was impacted by COVID-19 social distancing requirements. Blocks of State Street from Haley Street to Sola Street were closed to traffic and turned into a promenade. Establishments on the last block like Institution Ale Co., Sandbar, Pascucci, and The Cruisery have already set up outdoor dining areas, which receive many customers during the lunch rush and in the evening.
The Cruisery Owner Aron Ashland told the News-Press that his new outdoor seating area has been very popular with customers, so much so that it’s the section of the restaurant that gets crowded first since everyone wants a spot there.
“It’s the first part of our restaurant that gets busy. It definitely seems to be the most, I guess, sought after. People always want to sit outside, so really it’s been great,” he said.
Institution Ale Manager Brian McGlynn had similar remarks regarding the brewery’s outdoor seating area, calling it “where people want to be.”
“It seems like everyone loves it. People come in and they’re asking especially for these tables,” he said.
To comply with social distancing requirements, Institution, The Cruisery, and other State Street restaurants that have created outdoor seating areas have their tables six feet apart to accommodate social distancing. This also goes for their indoor seating.
Not only is the new State Street popular, but so is the possibility of the promenade setup becoming permanent. While sitting down to a glass of beer at Institution, Santa Barbara resident Devon MacLeod told the News-Press that she’d like it if people could still walk in the middle of the street after the pandemic has subsided, as “it’s way better than having car traffic.”
As she and a friend were having lunch at Pascucci, Santa Barbara resident Judy Ricker said the outdoor dining and promenade setup is a shot in the arm for State Street and has given it a revival that it has needed for a long time.
“I think it creates a wonderful atmosphere. State Street has been in the doldrums for years and even without the pandemic we need something like this to re-energize our economic engine,” she said.
She added that keeping the promenade in place after the pandemic is the right way to go. In her opinion, State Street doesn’t need to be a “drive street.”
She stated, “No one I know drives on State Street now. Why not make it something interesting and vital?”
Keeping the promenade after the health crisis was also a popular idea among the restaurant owners and managers who spoke to the News-Press. Mr. McGlynn revealed that many Institution customers come up to him and inquire whether the new State Street will remain once all COVID-19 restrictions are lifted. Having heard about the idea of turning State Street into a pedestrian-only corridor long before COVID-19 hit, he himself hopes that the current makeshift promenade is a “test run” for a more permanent version in the future.
Since the promenade was set up and restaurants were allowed to create outdoor dining areas, Mr. Ashland has noticed a “drastically different” number of people out and about on State Street, as well as a big increase in business. If it is here to stay, he predicts that State Street will enter a new era of prosperity that has eluded it for a long time.
“Finally, State Street is where people are going to want to come again and it’s been a long time, it’s been like 10 or 15 years since that was the case,” he said.