Some Bethesda restaurant customers said Wednesday night that they are comfortable with a temporary outdoor seating layout downtown as an accommodation for the COVID-19 crisis.
On Wednesday, select streets in Bethesda started closing between 11 a.m. and 10 p.m. to make way for the “Streetery,” a setup of round tables and chairs to help restaurants seat more customers. Montgomery County is in phase 1 of its reopening, in which indoor dining is not yet allowed.
The closures include:
• Norfolk Avenue, between St. Elmo Avenue and Cordell Avenue
• Norfolk Avenue, between Cordell Avenue and Del Ray Avenue
• Woodmont Avenue, between Elm Street and BethesdaAvenue
• Veterans Park, corner of Norfolk and Woodmont Avenues
Cordell Avenue between the parking garage near Old Georgetown Road and Triangle Towers will be closed Wednesday through Sunday from 4 to 10 p.m.
The Bethesda Urban Partnership worked with Montgomery County officials on the Streetery concept. Customers may purchase food for takeout for nearby restaurants and consume it there.
The tables are spaced at least six feet apart and no more than four people may sit at a table. Tables are cleaned after each use.
Crowds on Wednesday were sparse in Woodmont Triangle around 6 p.m., although restaurants with their own patios appeared much busier. More people gathered as the dinner hour wore on.
Jay Moncayo said he and his friends made the trip to Bethesda from Clarksburg to take advantage of the expanded outdoor seating.
“It’s a great idea, I feel like I’m in Times Square,” he said.
Moncayo said the Streetery concept is “a great solution for right now,” but he misses being able to go to a restaurant with table service.
Earlier on Wednesday, Gov. Larry Hogan announced that restaurants would be allowed to serve customers inside at 50% capacity starting at 5 p.m. Friday under the phase 2 reopening plan, although Montgomery County won’t follow the state plan. County Executive Marc Elrich said the county will move into phase 2 next week, but he wasn’t specific about the day.
The county began allowing outdoor seating at restaurants on June 1.
Nico Garcia and Darien Charles, who were sipping beers at a table on Cordell Avenue, said it will be a while before they sit inside a restaurant. Charles said he worries about contaminants spreading through the air easily.
“Honestly, I’m still afraid of indoor seating. My whole thing is, indoors you have the recycled air,” he said.
Charles said the Streetery idea is a “good way to support businesses while being safe” and he would like to see it continue long-term.
“I mean, nobody uses these roads. Literally, these roads are very pointless,” he said of Woodmont Triangle.
Garcia said he, too, approved of the idea.
“I love it. I hope they extend it to the rest of the street, so we can have a good time over here. And it’s all pretty social distanced,” he said.
The outdoor patio at Barrel and Crow on Cordell Avenue was busy during the dinner hour on Wednesday. Owner Laura Houlihan said she thinks the Streetery concept will be a “great addition to Bethesda.”
She added that the restaurant has a special “Streetery menu” with discounted craft cocktails, growlers and wine bottles.
Asked about the possibility of reopening indoor seating next week, Houlihan said going to 50% is a “needed gradual step” but she respects that some people are uncomfortable with reopening too quickly.
“For someone like me, who has the windows open, so you can have the constant flow [of air], that’s a big difference,” she said. “Some of the restaurants don’t have that flow, so it’s gonna be a little different. I think we have to at least offer it to people, and if they are comfortable with it, they can come out.”
At Matchbox Pizza Bistro in Bethesda Row, the restaurant patio was also busy on Wednesday. A small crowd was at the tables set up nearby on Woodmont Avenue.
Manager Cecil Roberson said the Streetery concept is a “good addition to the area” and thinks it will bring more people to restaurants.
Roberson said he thinks next week might be too soon to go to 50% capacity for indoor seating.
“It’ll certainly help business, but as far as safety goes, it could be a little too early,” he said.
Ken Schaner, a Bethesda attorney eating his dinner from Raku at a table on Woodmont Avenue, said he also worries about reopening too quickly.
“I wouldn’t go inside,” he said.
Dan Schere can be reached at Daniel.firstname.lastname@example.org