Pop-up Cafés aim to enliven downtown Norwich

Norwich - Downtown often looks deserted or at least inactive on weekends, with few cars and fewer people on the streets and sidewalks.

Yet several downtown eateries are busy on weekends. A pilot project is aimed at making that more obvious to passersby and city residents.

"Pop-up Café" would allow downtown restaurants to usurp on-street parking spaces in front of their establishments for al fresco dining on weekends, from 4 p.m. Friday - after weekday parking rules end - through Sunday evening.

The plan is a collaboration among the Norwich Community Development Corp., city police and public works departments. At the start, 11 restaurants were invited to participate. The Harp & Dragon Irish pub on Main Street could be the first to try it out in a couple of weeks, with Chacers Bar & Grill soon to follow.

"The idea is that it pops up on the weekend and disappears on the weekdays," Jason Vincent, senior economic development associate for NCDC, said.

"We're really excited about it," Harp & Dragon General Manager Laurie Trainor said. "We think it will bring a lot to downtown Norwich and bring a lot of people from outside Norwich into downtown."

Vincent said restaurants can't simply move tables into the street. The restaurant owner or manager must submit a plan to the agency showing the parking spaces the restaurant wants to use and the layout of the eating area. The owner also must submit an insurance certificate and, if necessary, obtain permission from the state Liquor Control Division if it plans to serve liquor.

There are other rules. No smoking would be allowed in the Pop-up Café, and no trash cans would be allowed in the streets. Tables may not block fire hydrants, and free-standing umbrellas and other features must be anchored adequately.

City police would inspect the spot, and if approved, NCDC and public works would provide yellow sawhorse barriers to mark off the space. But instead of warnings of road closures or construction ahead, the signs would say "Pop-up Café."

Harp & Dragon is nearly through that process, Trainor said. The restaurant still needs approval from the Liquor Control Division, and while city officials have approved the plan verbally, Police Chief Louis Fusaro wants more details before giving final approval.

A sketch of the restaurant's layout showed six tables of four chairs each in the parking spaces directly in front of the restaurant.

"The idea in concept is good," Vincent said of Harp & Dragon's plan. "It will take a couple of weeks to put it together."

c.bessette@theday.com

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