Dining in Downtown Houston can be a hassle, what with the limited parking and COVD-19 restrictions affecting seating space at so many eateries. Fortunately, the city of Houston is helping to alleviate some of the restaurant seating issues by encouraging businesses to set up space outside on the street, through the program More Space: Main Street.
Downtown Houston lost about a dozen street-level bars and restaurants because of thinned-out crowds during the pandemic, according to the Downtown District. And the Texas Restaurant Association estimates that the state lost 9,000-10,000 restaurants since the start of the pandemic.
First announced in 2020, More Space: Main Street was created as a way to encourage social distancing. Now, the program has expanded another year, allowing restaurants to continue using makeshift patios that take up street space outside the restaurants. The program temporarily closes off select parts of a seven-block stretch of Main Street to automobile traffic to make it safe.
“[More Space: Main Street] is a healthier option for people wanting to go out and for restaurants and bars wanting to serve them. And it makes use of an underutilized, but beautiful part of Main Street,” says Scott Repass, bar owner and Downtown District board member.
His restaurant and bar, the Little Dipper, located at 304 Main St., was the first to participate in the initiative. Surrounded with metal fencing, the new outdoor space allows for expanded patio seating so restaurants can serve more customers. The makeshift patio at Dipper is bolted into the ground to separate the outdoor dining area from the METRORail, which runs along Main Street, and the street dining are has eight tables that can seat 16 people.
David Fields, chief transportation planner for the city, says the program has been a boon for Downtown businesses and city officials received positive feedback from the community. Closing off traffic to this vibrant section of Downtown, he says, has made “a more active and interesting Main Street.”
The program was slated to run until the end of this month, but after its latest evaluation by city officials 一 who found that the program’s participants saw an increase in revenue, and customer and employee retention 一 the Houston City Council voted for More Space: Main Street to be extended until 2023.
Businesses in the area have to receive approval to extend their service into the street, and Cherry, the ’80s nightclub located at 308 Main St., is among the first to announce its new participation in the program.
“This is the perfect time of year to enjoy Houston’s patio weather, and I know Houstonians will enjoy the peace of mind of having extra space to dine while social distancing,” Mayor Sylvester Turner said in a press release. Turner wants to encourage Houstonians to get back to their regular routines and, in H-Town, dining out is a big part of that.
Extension of the program comes as the threat of COVID-19 is waning, but is still a serious concern. And as our usual spring and early summer seasons bring perfect nighttime temperatures, what better way than dining, or drinking, al fresco on these Houston streets?
More information on More Space: Main Street, here.