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In ever-resilient New York City, restaurants continue to adapt and adjust to the new reality of outdoor dining. In fact, many establishments are doing so in extraordinarily creative ways, utilizing open-air space to the fullest extent imaginable while incorporating safely distanced seating.
In a way, New York looks more magical than ever. Intricately designed patios and built-out dining pavilions are spilling onto the city’s sidewalks and streets. And in any given neighborhood, you’ll find sophisticated setups adorned with colorful umbrellas, drapes of string lights, and explosions of florals, evoking an enchanting European vibe.
From a lush jungle paradise to a rosé-inspired garden café, here are ten of the most magnificent al fresco spaces—with standout menus to match.
Curly willow branches and arched vines blooming with colorful silk hydrangeas have completely transformed the scaffolding in front of midtown’s Michelin-starred Italian seafood standby. Designed by Floratorium and Nusla Design, ‘Marea Under the Sea’ is a showstopping patio installation on Central Park South that was “conceptualized with the idea that after all the turmoil we have endured during these unprecedented times, the Marea tide starts to settle, revealing she's full of vibrant life,” explains Carlos Franqui, founder of Floratorium floral art studio. The whimsical, oceanic sanctuary invites guests to savor Marea signatures (including Nova Scotia lobster with burrata, basil, and eggplant al funghetto; and the famed fusilli with red wine braised octopus and bone marrow) in a safe—and incredibly stunning—setting.
The acclaimed modern-Italian restaurant in NoMad reopened with its first-ever al fresco dining concept: Scarpetta's Outdoor Garden Café. Presented by Whispering Angel, the enchanting installation features a spectacular floral archway, orange trees, drapes of ivy, blush pink umbrellas, and bistro lights encompassing 80 distanced seats. Delight in the flourishing spectacle during nightly aperitivo for tasty cicchetti bites and signature cocktails including Frosé (Whispering Angel rosé, Sicilian blood orange liqueur, lemon, raspberry puree and honey) and Sgroppino: refreshing, vodka-infused lemon sorbet with a prosecco floater that's served in two scooped out lemon halves. The à la carte dinner menu offers seafood dishes, seasonal vegetables, and Scarpetta’s signature pastas—such as the legendary spaghetti tomato basil (and for every plate sold, $1 will go back to the Food Education Fund).
Danny Meyer’s iconic Michelin-starred stunner in Flatiron reopened for outdoor dining in August, presenting a uniquely sustainable setup in partnership with re-ply. The plywood used to protect storefronts during the city-wide lockdown—otherwise destined for landfill—was repurposed to create elegant modular dining pods and barriers, which are bursting with beautiful flower arrangements. Gramercy Tavern in the Street’s à la carte menu showcases all the fresh, seasonal ingredient-driven flavors expected from executive chef Michael Anthony and team. Highlights include tomato carpaccio, chilled corn soup, the famous Tavern burger, and a lunch-only lobster roll served during recently-debuted midday service. As part of New York’s Open Streets program, the restaurant’s 20th street stretch is closed for cars on the weekends, allowing for even more spaced out seating. Pro tip: save room for the knockout salted coconut stracciatella gelato—an exclusive collaboration with Caffe Panna.
Escape to paradise without stepping on a plane. Inspired by the tropical beauty of Tulum, Gitano Garden of Love is the ultimate jungle oasis in Hudson Square—at the intersection of SoHo and Tribeca. Framed by downtown skyline views, the grand garden boasts 30-foot coconut palms, hundreds of tropical plants, and chic bohemian umbrellas, along with a centrally-located bar, twin wood pergola dining decks, and an open fire kitchen. Founder and owner, James Gardner, has gone above and beyond to ensure guests are safe. Order Gitano’s modern Mexican hits (think heirloom tomato-watermelon salad and aguachile with shrimp, cucumber, and cilantro served in a half coconut) and inspired signature cocktails (like the fiery Jungle Fever with mezcal, chile, lime, and cilantro) through an advanced QR code system on your smartphone, then pay directly without server contact.
The popular seasonal restaurant on the rooftop of Eataly’s Flatiron location is in full bloom during its sensational summer installation. Meaning “flowering greenhouse” in Italian, SERRA FIORITA is a brightly-colored wonderland inspired by a 3-D pop-up book. Sit amongst an explosion of vivid flowers and string-lit archways to enjoy a summery menu reflective of the Italian countryside. Hero dishes include Fior Fiore (“the best of the best”)—raw greenmarket produce with fava bean puree served in a locally-made flower stoneware pot—and seared trout prepared with heirloom tomato and market vegetables. And you can’t miss the build-your-own Malfy Gin & Tonic cart, which features edible flower garnishes so your drink can match the décor.
The highly-anticipated sequel to the original Dante—Greenwich Village’s legendary Italian cafe that earned the number one spot on 2019’s World’s 50 Best Bars list—opened in late June. Occupying the corner of Hudson and Perry Streets, the haute West Village outpost features Mediterranean-influenced cuisine, internationally-popular cocktails, and a gorgeous setting for outdoor dining. Set along both sides of the mint-colored facade are Parisian-style bistro chairs and tables between curated glass dividers—gussied up with witty phrases written in gold script—and lovely lush greenery. Pro tip: order the Dirty Martini (with olive oil, olive bitters, a pinch of salt, and olive brine mist)—it’s a game changer.
Chef Andrew Carmellini’s quintessential French café and bakery is bringing its bustling bistro spirit to the streets of downtown Manhattan. Flanking the sprawling eatery on the corner of Lafayette and Great Jones, the new sidewalk installation features marble table tops, strands of vintage carnival bulb lights, and custom ‘Lafayette Blue’ canopy umbrellas, with an abundance of striking greenery planted by Urban Green City Gardens sprinkled throughout. Get your fix of fine French fare during Lafayette’s three day brunch or take in late summer’s warm evening glow at golden hour. Also noteworthy: the outdoor setups at NoHo Hospitality Group’s other restaurants—Locanda Verde, Bar Primi, Leuca, and The Dutch—are all impressive.
Liberty Bistro (inside Le District)
Though hopping on a plane to France may not be possible right now, Le District—Battery Park’s upscale French market and food hall—aims to be the next best thing. Liberty Bistro (formerly Beaubourg brasserie) recently reemerged for outdoor dining with an ooh la la-worthy terrace makeover that will transport you to the French Riviera. “We wanted it to be an escape from reality; an escape from NYC. We want you to feel like you’re somewhere in the Mediterranean,” shared Mackensie Abello, a representative for Le District. Soak up the last stretch of warm weather over towers of seafood, classic salade niçoise, and excellent steak frites while surrounded by potted palms, hanging string lights, and colorful cascades of flowers.
Sushi Lab Rooftop
This modern sushi bar in the Sanctuary Hotel lobby switched gears once the pandemic hit. Taking over the underutilized space atop the building, their new open-air oasis offers creative omakase high above midtown. Sushi Lab Rooftop has an intimate chef’s counter and several wooden garden tables surrounded by white orchids and overflowing planters, with an ethereal canopy of draped greenery above. “We wanted to create an outdoor dining experience where people would have good vibes, be comfortable, and most importantly safe,” shared Jeremy Poon, the restaurant’s Vice President of Operations. “The décor is centered around florals and plants because it represents growth, and life.”
This super stylish, seasonal pop-up at the SoHo Grand hotel brings a taste of tropics to the concrete jungle. Decked out in island-inspired décor with palm trees aplenty, Gilligan’s is an idyllic respite from busy city life. The summery menu showcases local ingredient-driven dishes (such as Long Island-sourced seafood and squash blossom stone oven pizza topped with creamy burrata, lemon, and mint) and refreshing cocktails. And no visit to this breezy hideaway is complete without ordering the incredibly popular—and Instagram-friendly—signature frozen watermelon margarita. Cheers!