This week, Merri Mueller posed a great question on Facebook’s Westport Front Porch group: Where to dine outdoors in Westport? It’s getting cooler, she said — but she is not yet comfortable going indoors.
Suggestions poured in:
Pene e Bene. Rive Bistro. Pearl at Longshore. The Boathouse at Saugatuck Rowing Club. Little Barn. Harvest. Manna Toast. Walrus Alley. Tarantino. The Cottage. Rizzuto’s (where you can request heaters — and they’ll close your private tent flaps).
I’m sure there are more. I’m also sure that “06880” readers will add them in the Comments section below.
Rizzuto’s has always offered outdoor dining. There are more tables now.
But Merri’s query — and the responses — sparked an idea for more crowdsourcing here.
What else can Westport restaurant owners do for their customers, over the next few months?
The coronavirus will not go away. The holidays will be here before we know it. The weather will be much colder.
The speed, creativity and hospitality with which so many restaurants pivoted this spring and summer was impressive. With new delivery services, curbside pick-up, takeout and outdoor tables, they turned what could have been a disaster into an almost robust dining scene.
The next few months will be crucial for their bottom lines. With winter looming, it won’t be easy.
“06880” is here to help. Let’s hear readers’ creative ideas of what they’d like to see — outdoors and inside — at our many restaurants (and any other place that sells food).
You can be specific (mentioning one or two spots) or general.
So chew on this. Then click “Comments” below.
Church Lane, this summer. How can restaurants adapt this winter?
This may be counterintuitive. It may be provocative. It may also be dumb, and wrong.
But here is my thought, 5 months into a pandemic and 3 days after a tropical storm with a powerful punch:
Downtown may be going through a renaissance, thanks to our twin disasters.
COVID-19 caused the closures of many businesses, and the demise of a few well-known restaurants like Tavern on Main and Le Penguin.
But — thanks to the Westport Downtown Merchants Association and town officials — it resulted in the closure of Church Lane this month. The area was hopping last weekend, with music, outdoor dining at places like Spotted Horse and Manna Toast, and plenty of smiles.
Shops like Savannah Bee and the new hemp place boomed.
Church Lane, last weekend, (Photo/Dan Woog
Across the Post Road, the Levitt Pavilion is shut. But the Remarkable Theater has pioneered the surprise hit of the summer — pop-up movies in the Imperial Avenue lot — and the space has been used for other stay-near-your-car, socially distanced but very fun entertainment like Supper & Soul (sponsored by the Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce and Westport Library), and a Staples students-and-alums concert (organized by teenagers).
Drive-in movies, courtesy of the Remarkable Theater.
The tropical storm, meanwhile, spared downtown. It did not even flood, probably because merchants sandbagged their doors figuring it would. (The fact that we had less than an inch of rain also helped.)
So the power stayed on (though unfortunately not on Church Lane). Residents who could get out of their side streets descended on the area.
Starbucks did a gold rush business (even without credit cards — cash only). So did Rye Ridge Deli and GG & Joe’s açaí bowl spot, along with full-service restaurants like Jeera Thai, Don Melo, Walrus Alley, Amis and others.
All day long, and into the evening, folks wandered. Kids rode bikes. Let me repeat that: Downtown, kids rode bikes. It was as close to the 1950s as you can get, without actually being there.
Adults stopped and chatted. They shopped. You couldn’t see, but behind their masks, they smiled.
But the best thing — if by “best” you toss out the reason for it — was the gathering on Jesup Green, along the Riverwalk, and on the Westport Library steps.
A small part of the large WiFi crowd. (Photo/Miggs Burroughs)
Hundreds of folks sat, enjoying free WiFi. They did business, read emails (and “06880”), talked on their phones, watched movies on their tablets.
There was not a lot of chatter, during the day. Using devices will do that. Staying 6 feet apart didn’t help.
But when evening came, things got more social. A woman picked up her ukulele, and gave an impromptu concert. Folks put down their phones, and started talking. They watched the rowers gliding past.
An (Photos/Miggs Burroughs)
The sun set. The moon rose. The river shimmered. You could see stars.
Is this a harbinger of things to come? What will downtown look like once everyone gets power and internet — and the world gets a vaccine? Will this be a fleeting moment in time, or a sea change?
I have no idea. But for right now — despite all that is bad in Westport, the country and the planet — downtown Westport is suddenly, inexplicably, momentously, both fun and cool.
Tonight, Church Lane celebrates its closure to traffic with music.
Busted Chops plays funk and soul between Spotted Horse and Urban Outfitters, from 6 to 9 p.m. Bring your friends — and masks!
Busted Chops takes over tonight, fro 6 to 9 p.m.
First there were planters. Now comes haiku.
This weekend, the Westport Arts Advisory Committee’s is placing 20 lawn signs throughout downtown. Each contains a photo of Westport, and a haiku by town poet laureate Diane Lowman.
Rotating lawn sign “art shows” are designed to keep downtown visitors inspired and smiling during the pandemic. Here are 2 signs — still packaged — for the first round.
Among the Westport Garden Club’s many roles: maintaining the “Beach Buds” garden at the entrance to Compo Beach.
Yesterday they added more color, through their #FridayFlowers bouquet. They came from Ginger Donaher’s garden.
So even if you arrive too late this weekend and find the parking lot closed, you’ll have something to smile about.
It’s a syrupy name, but it does the job. SuiteTooth — already active in New York City and the Hamptons — has just started working in Westport. They solve a big obstacle to visiting the dentist — it’s inconvenient (especially now, during the pandemic) — by offering at-home preventative dental care (cleanings, exams, X-rays and sealants), plus cosmetic services like whitenings.
Their mobile dental suite can be set up inside a home, outside, or in a pergola or pool house. (You do have a pergola, right?) They just need an 8×8 space, electricity, WiFi and a bathroom.
For more details, click here or call 347-256-1445.
And finally … it’s already August. Can September be far behind?
Every Photo Challenge has a back story. I wish I knew the one behind last week’s.
Downtown, a block of Post Road stores between Myrtle Avenue and Anthropologie (the old YMCA) seems to cut off access to Church Lane, and with it the Spotted Horse restaurant and the shops and galleries of Bedford Square.
Unless, that is, you know the “secret” short cut. A narrow alley slices alongside Urban Outfitters, connecting the 2 streets.
What’s more, the passageway is enlivened by some cool art. Most Westporters don’t know it’s there. But Tom Ryan, Andrew Colabella, Michael Calise, Stacie Curran and Seth Braunstein all identified it through Molly Alger’s reminiscent-of-an-island-somewhere photo. (Click here to see.)
How did the alley get there? Was it planned, or an accident? Who created the art — and was it sponsored or guerrilla? If you know the back story to this hidden downtown gem, let us know!
ProTip: There’s another shortcut between the Post Road and Church Lane too, just east of the alley: the parking garage. You can’t drive through anymore, but you can still walk it.
This week’s Photo Challenge is not exactly a shortcut. If you know where in Westport you’d see this, click “Comments” below.
Reading today’s headlines is not for the faint of heart. Disasters — natural and man-made — are all around.
Westport can seem immune. But Jesse and Sefra Levin know we’re not.
Since graduating from Staples in 2003, they’ve been on a mission: prepare people around the globe to survive. They’ve brought “readiness skills” to the veteran, disaster response and entrepreneurial communities.
Now they’ve popped up in Westport.
The twins opened a pop-up shop at 29 Church Lane. Their company — Tactivate — outfits customers with gear, and offers advice and training, for every conceivable emergency. They call themselves “bespoke readiness outfitters.”
From classes on how to pack and use a serious go- bag and medical kit to how to communicate when there is no cell service, we partner with you to devise custom tailored solutions and training experiences delivered by professional first responders and military veterans on and off site.
Tomorrow (Thursday, December 12, 6:30 p.m.), they offer their first event: “Tequilas and Tourniquets.” They call it “paint and sip for bad-assery.”
Suffice it to say, they’ve hacked out a path quite different from most of their classmates.
While still at Staples, Jesse ran a small guerrilla marketing operation, doing X and Gravity Games promotions for SoBe.
Jesse Levin, in Puerto Rico.
He took wilderness survival school courses, and after graduating from Babson College went straight to Panama where he launched a cultural mediation advisory firm (and got his first exposure to disaster response, during floods).
He formed Tactivate in 2010, after working with local populations, the military, government, NGOs and the private sector following the 2010 Haiti earthquake. Most recently, he helped carry out a food and water security project in the aftermath of the Puerto Rico hurricane.
Sefra attended Staples, graduated from Greens Farms Academy and Colorado College, then earned a master’s in agro-ecological education from Cornell University. She built seed banks all over the world, while specializing in designing spaces quickly.
Jesse says that the Westport pop-up store was conceived only last week. Within a couple of days — with help from the Downtown Merchants Association and Bedford Square developer David Waldman, plus his sister’s “wild outfitting skills” — they had a lease and a decorated space.
“We employ the same sort of expediency and operational efficiency required to save lives in disasters to our business ventures,” he explains.
Jesse and Sefra Levin.
He says that his survival school experience — and all that followed — has empowered him. He wants others to experience “the freedom that comes from knowing you can help yourself and others in a very serious situation.”
Disasters can bring out the best in people, he has seen. Now he’ll show Westporters how to be ready for whatever may come.
“We want to expose people to the pleasure and comfort that comes from taking proactive steps to be of better service to others when it counts,” Jesse says.
“We have big storms, the power goes out and things are going boom around us. You can live in fear, react in an uninformed way when something happens and be a liability. Or you can take simple measures to get a little training and acquire a few critical pieces of gear to make you, your family and your business ready to provide for themselves and others in a time of need.”
So there it is: tactical preparedness, pop-up style. You can find it in the heart of downtown, right between the home furnishings of Anthropolgie, and the honey at Savannah Bee.
(For more information on Thursday’s “Tequilas and Tourniquets” event, click here.)
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