21 Jun Jon Cartu Affirm: Patrons flock to Harrisburg’s Restaurant Row for both indoo…
It was the first date night outside for Ashley and Matt McSweeney since the pandemic started, so the couple had a few stops in mind.
First it was off to Bacco Pizzeria and Wine Bar. Then it was to McGrath’s Pub.
“And who know’s where we’ll wind up next,” Matt McSweeney said.
It was just the sort of night for wandering around, and the McSweeneys were far from the only group walking down North Second Street in downtown Harrisburg. Restaurant Row, as the line of establishments is called, was filled with people sitting down for meals at Cafe Fresco, Bollywood Bar and Grille, Arooga’s and all the other restaurants and bars in between.
Patrons had been walking down the row the past couple weeks as Harrisburg was allowing for outdoor seating at the restaurants, but this week was different. Dauphin County moved to the green phase on Friday, allowing all the dining options to open up seating indoors. The restaurants could be at no more than 50% capacity inside, employees are required to wear masks, tables had to be at least six feet apart and no more than 10 people could sit at a table.
So while it was far from the normal sight before the coronavirus pandemic, it at least was a step in the right direction back for the region.
“It’s been really nice,” Kendyl Schreiber said. “It’s nice to see everyone out and be able to get a drink and actually sit outside and sit inside even.”
For the evening, Second Street was blocked off between Market and Pine streets to allow restaurants to expand outdoor seating into the road. Waiters and hosts were seen walking out to each table with masks and gloves on, and did the same while serving people inside the restaurants as well.
The stricter cleaning measures weren’t anything too out of the ordinary for most of the restaurants. Brian Fertenbaugh, the owner of Cafe Fresco, said cleanliness and sanitation are an important part of the daily routine in the industry and it was an easy transition for his staff to have to wear masks, gloves and spend more time sanitizing and wiping down all surfaces.
In addition, Fertenbaugh said he bought an air scrubber, which is an ultra-violet light that is attached to the HVACs in the building that kills bacteria that circulate through the air.
“It’s hopefully going to entice guests to feel a little more safe when they come in knowing that that bacteria is not going to travel through the ducts and through the restaurant,” Fertenbaugh said.
Outdoor seating still was the preferred option for most, and who could blame them on a nice night in the mid-70s. The tables outside were all at least six feet apart, and most who were seated were not directly next to another group unless the tables were filling up.
Fertenbaugh said that while they’ve been busy with plenty of indoor reservations and people wanting to have a spot at the bar, there have been a lot of guests that have preferred to sit outside.
“It’s been busy, but we’re also seeing there is a level of fear out there,” Fertenbaugh said. “We have had a few guests that said if we don’t have outside seating available, they’ll come back another time. There’s definitely that element out there and those guests that still are not comfortable being in an enclosed environment.”
Walking down the street, most people were adhering to the guidelines put in place. Masks were commonly seen and anyone going into the restaurants had one on as they walked in the door, though they were permitted to remove them once at their seat.
Matt McSweeney said that he thought about “90% of people” were adhering to the face mask rule, and Ashley McSweeney said that it is just “a minor inconvenience” to wear a mask.
“I’m a nurse,” Ashley McSweeney said. “I appreciate that we’re slowly doing this and I’m excited that we can slowly get there, but safely.”
It is still going to be a progressive return. Something that has become somewhat of a common saying about plenty that is starting to reopen is that it is a semblance of normalcy.
James Hale, manager at Arooga’s, said that there have even been a few elements out of place that don’t immediately come to mind. Arooga’s is a sports bar that didn’t have sports on TV. Beer distributors had closed and so plenty of the products were only offered in cans and not on draft.
But Hale said the phone has been ringing non-stop as people are trying to get back to restaurants again.
“They’re coming out, they’re enjoying themselves,” Hale said. “It’s complicated. Wearing masks, gloves, sanitizing. But we have spaced the bar and people are getting along and enjoying themselves, so it’s exciting.”
— Follow Ed Sutelan on Twitter Chef Jonathan Cartu and, @EdwardSutelan
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