Citing coronavirus concerns, Portland restaurants expand outdoors for fresh air, escape – OregonLive

Citing coronavirus concerns, Portland restaurants expand outdoors for fresh air, escape  OregonLive

Before the pandemic, regulars packed Palomar for its warm service, Cuban food and expertly crafted daiquiris from award-winning bartender Ricky Gomez and his team.

These days, they might go for the view.

Instead of its normal ground-floor space, Palomar now sits on the roof of its Southeast Division Street building, serving blended piña coladas to secluded tables and sunny counter seats with sight lines to downtown Portland.

Across Oregon, cities are working with small business owners to free up access to parking spots and other public spaces in an effort to add capacity and entice customers back out in an environment where experts say the risk of contracting COVID-19 is lower. In Portland, Palomar’s move is the latest — and one of the most dramatic — attempts by a Portland business to expand into the great outdoors.

On a pair of bike rides that stretched from Sellwood to St. Johns last week, The Oregonian/OregonLive photographed parking spot seating setups outside Marco’s Cafe in Multnomah Village and Pho Van Fresh in the Pearl District, a huge tent set up for live music in the sprawling parking lot next to Amalfi’s Italian Restaurant in Beaumont-Wilshire and full-on street closures next to Stormbreaker Brewing’s two North Portland locations.

(Wondering if your favorite restaurant has new outdoor seating? The Portland Bureau of Transportation has a map showing all approved parking and street “plazas” on its website.)

After three months of boxing up takeout at her Northeast Portland restaurant, third-generation Amalfi’s owner Kiauna Floyd knew that if she was going to restart dine-in service, it would have to be outside.

“The metrics and data suggest that you’re far less likely to contract this disease outside,” Floyd said in a phone interview Wednesday. “Eating inside? There was no way we were touching that with a 10-foot pole. Heck, a 100-foot pole.”

Fortunately, Amalfi’s is home to what has become an increasing rarity in Portland: A huge parking lot that wraps around the side and back of the 61-year-old restaurant, 4703 N.E. Fremont St. Working with West Coast Event productions, Floyd had two large tents with “One Love” written on the side installed in the parking lot.

Combined, the canopies cover an area about 100 feet long by 50 feet wide. Tables underneath are spread at least seven feet apart. Getting a permit to serve alcohol to the new parking lot patio was simple thanks to the Oregon Liquor Control Comission’s streamlined application process.

Amalfi’s began seating customers outside on Juneteenth, and is now open six nights a week, with live music from 6 to 9 p.m. Thursday through Saturday.

But Floyd wasn’t done. She next partnered with two other Black-owned businesses — locally based Heart & Hustle Productions and artist Edmund “Mundo” Holmes — to create a new mural centered on a Black Rosie the Riveter, the bandana-wearing, bicep-flexing symbol of the women who worked in shipyards and factories during World War II. This Rosie, who Floyd said has “darker-pigmented skin and big hoop earrings,” was inspired by her grandmother, who worked in the Kaiser Shipyards in Richmond, California.

Amalfi’s owner Kiauna Floyd.

New “One Love” tents cover Amalfi’s side patio.

“Rosie the Riveter has always been an inspiration to me,” Floyd said. “She’s always been in my blood and in my spirit. Putting her up was a way for us to uplift, elevate and spread love to our community during some pretty difficult times, not only with the pandemic, but also a civil rights movement part two.”

Since the mural went up, Floyd said people have stopped their cars at least 30 times a day to get out and take selfies. Among the first such pictures? Floyd’s 10-year-old daughter, who stood in front of the mural and struck the iconic pose.

Amalfi’s isn’t the only restaurant taking advantage of a nearby parking lot. Last month, Russian restaurant Kachka, 960 S.E. 11th Ave., introduced a new menu of 1990s-inspired comfort food and drinks on its upstairs parking lot. The new restaurant, dubbed Kachka Alfresca, includes burgers, Cobb salads, artichoke dips, stuffed potato skins, molten chocolate cakes and other comfort dishes, each with a Russian twist, and all ordered from the comfort of your phone.

At Southeast Ankeny Street and 28th Avenue, co-housed businesses Tap & Table and Taco-Ish rolled out what might be Portland’s most impressive street plaza to date, with a row of picnic tables, a free-to-use piano and an ice cream van from Ruby Jewel. A brightly colored rainbow rectangle runs through the middle, granting access to walkers, bicycles and emergency vehicles.

Just up East Burnside Street, new seafood market and restaurant Flying Fish Co. turned its side parking lot into a pleasant outdoor patio. On a nice day, you could almost imagine you were enjoying that good clam chowder on the coast. A few blocks farther up the street, 11-year-old steakhouse Laurelhurst Market was putting the finishing touches on a big patio being built on top of their own parking lot.

Stormbreaker Brewing was among the first businesses in Portland to be approved to close a full street — save for an 11-foot access lane — at their St. Johns taproom. Adding a second closure outside their original location just off North Mississippi Avenue was easy.

According to head brewer Rob Lutz, the Portland Bureau of Transportation application took about 15 minutes to fill out, and about five days to be reviewed. Approval from the liquor commission was automatic. Without the additional outdoor seating, the Mississippi location, 832 N. Beech St., would have been down to about 40 percent of its capacity once tables were separated by six feet.

“That would have been a struggle,” Lutz said. “We were super fortunate. But we really need every penny this summer to make sure we can squirrel away enough money to make it through the winter.”

For Palomar’s Gomez, reopening on the rooftop was a matter of survival. Oregon’s ban on in-house dining, announced by Gov. Kate Brown on March 16, ended up lasting for months. Due to a state law preventing the sale of liquor to-go, Palomar, 959 S.E. Division St., has been unable to offer his signature item for takeout. And when Multnomah County finally did enter Phase 1 on June 19, Gomez realized his Southeast Division Street space was too small to safely space tables by six feet and still make a profit.

So he reached out to his landlords with a plea: How would they feel about extending Palomar’s special occasion rooftop access into a more permanent affair, creating a sixth-floor pop-up bar, four nights a week. They were game, and Gomez quickly sketched out a plan to space 11 tables on the roof, none closer than six and a half feet apart, some much further than that.

On July 2, Palomar began offering same-day reservations for a chance to drink blended strawberry margaritas and tasty shrimp ceviche cocktails from a seat with views across Tilikum Crossing toward the skyscrapers downtown.

“When we were deciding to open Palomar, we wanted to make sure we still offered the essence of what we do to our guests,” Gomez said. “We still wanted to be an escape, a tropical bar known for escapism and Miami colors. And we still wanted guests to feel relaxed, distanced and safe.”

Michael Russell, mrussell@oregonian.com, @tdmrussell

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