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A designer's reimagined version of Melba's in Harlem expands outdoor seating onto city streets

Updated: Dec 23, 2020

Illustration by Rockwell Group

What will New York restaurants look like when the city finally allows customers to eat in them again?

One clue comes from a buzzy proposal by architect and designer David Rockwell, who has reimagined Melba's in Harlem for the new era of socially distanced dining that will be necessary to ensure the safety of both employees and diners.

Rockwell's solution–a series of adaptable outdoor kits complete with decks, fencing and service stations–would expand seating not just across sidewalks but onto the streets.

“We’ve been exploring adaptable and portable designs that extend the inner dining space to sidewalks and beyond,” Rockwell told Bloomberg this week. “We’ve been inspired by work across the country and globe. Mostly, we’ve tried to utilize designs and materials that can be adapted to reflect the diversity of streetscapes in the City.”

Illustration by Rockwell Group

Any decision to enlarge outdoor dining spaces in any way would have to come from the city, and officials such as City Council Speaker Corey Johnson are currently looking at options.

Johnson told New York Magazine the city would open up streets to dining with the help of community boards, block associations, and business improvement districts.

This stretch of W 114th Street outside Melba's is now an "open street" for pedestrians and bicyclists

The illustrations of Melba's provided by the Rockwell Group show tables on both Frederick Douglass Boulevard and 114th Street

While it's not clear yet if Melba's could set up tables on either of these streets, at least half of the equation looks quite promising: the city recently turned W 114th Street into an "open street" for pedestrians and cyclists.

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