With communities around San Diego currently negotiating for approval to shut down neighborhood roads and allow for street-side dining, this past Saturday night marked the first real-time run of the new initiative in Little Italy. Spearheaded by the Little Italy Association of San Diego (LIA), the inaugural Al Fresco dining event closed a long stretch of India Street to vehicle traffic, transforming it into a pedestrian thoroughfare that enabled restaurants to extend their outdoor dining space onto pavement and sidewalks in response to the mandated reduction in seating capacity.
Photos from the scene show locals eager to resume dining out strolling down the street, some wearing face masks and others foregoing them. Pop-up patios dotted the asphalt, created from cordoned-off areas in front of 21 participating eateries including Monello, Barbusa, Bar One, Buon Appetito, and Farmer’s Table.
For the most part, the event seems to have been well-received by both diners and restaurant owners. Dario Gallo, co-owner of Civico 1845, reports that the Italian eatery was consistently busy from 4 p.m. on. The added space bumped up the capacity to 100 seats and Gallo relays that the restaurant did 370 covers throughout the evening, saying “Our guests said the al fresco experience gave them the feeling of actually being in Italy and that they would love to see this extended year-round on the weekends.” Caesar Vallin, managing partner of Cloak & Petal, tells Eater that the Japanese-inspired restaurant would absolutely participate again and hopes this becomes an ongoing option for the businesses in Little Italy, sharing that the extra seating allowed them to do about 75 percent of their typical Saturday night business.
“Saturday evening was a work in progress, but appears to be a success. We are happy to see our community back and enjoying Little Italy while working to maintain physical distancing guidelines,” said Marco Li Mandri, chief executive administrator of the Little Italy Association. “We are looking forward to hosting Al Fresco dining again next Saturday, June 20, with each time we do it, getting a little better for everyone.”
As far as continuing or expanding the outdoor dining program going forward, the LIA says that it’s planning to re-evaluate after the coming weekend.