BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — One of downtown Bakersfield’s liveliest areas is the corner of 19th and Eye and its vicinity — a section of the city with a number of restaurants, pubs, galleries and boutiques.
At least that was the case prior to this year.
2020 has been the year of the lockdown and with it has come restrictions on outdoor seating for bars and restaurants. But the city has a plan to help struggling restaurants, and it’s starting right there at 19th and Eye: al fresco dining.
And it’s just in the nick of time for local restaurants pushed to the brink by the pandemic. The coronavirus has been deadly slim-margin enterprises like restaurants. The city has been issuing so-called special events permits allowing restaurants to serve customers outdoors — an accommodation that fits within the state’s covid-19 -fighting restrictions.
Now the city is taking it a step further. Starting Friday, the section of Eye Street between 19th and the alley a half-block north will become an al fresco plaza — open for dining in the streets. Chef’s Choice Noodle Bar, Jin Sushi and Sandrini’s Public House will serve customers under specially appointed canopies.
Dr. Nick Hansa, co-owner of the Thai-themed Noodle Bar, says he couldn’t have pulled this off in July.
“In large part, we wanted to make sure the weather would be much more comfortable so people can actually really enjoy the dining experience,” he said.
Right across the street, Jin Kim — Jake to his friends — is trying to coordinate the opening of a second Jin Sushi location at Brimhall and Allen — coming in December — with this downtown project: the creation of an outdoor seating area in the middle of Eye Street.
“We only have eight tables outside so far but sometimes we have a 30-minute, one-hour wait because we lost a lot of tables,” he said. “So the city’s going to block the street — so I hope we can put more tables in the street. It’s gonna be really happy.”
Sandrini’s owner Brian Sandrini wasn’t available Thursday but he did say via text that he likes the flexibility afforded by the special permit and hopes he can recoup at least 25 percent of his previous business.
The Eye Street al fresco plaza, like the outdoor dining area in the nearby Wall Street Alley, will be open for business indefinitely — but temporarily — at least as far as we know now. Might such outdoor seating in the middle of the street become a permanent fixture? Ward 2 City Councilman Andrae Gonzales, who helped make this happen, isn’t ruling it out.
“(People ask), ‘Why not keep this outdoor dining available for customers and for restaurants 24-7 and all year long?’ And I couldn’t agree more,” he said. “I think we definitely need to look at ways to allow for expansive dining options in the future and I’m certainly open to it.”
No-parking signs go up Friday, alerting drivers ahead of time, and the street closure officially kicks in — round-the -clock and till further notice — Monday at 8:30 a.m.
Might these al fresco plazas spring up other places? Hopefully. This should make it a little easier — this week the Bakersfield City Council cancelled the $86 application fee for outdoor dining permits. Refunds for those who’ve already paid are available by request to the city treasurer’s office.