On a crisp fall night just four months before Covid-19 – what now feels like a lifetime ago – about 100 people gathered shoulder-to-shoulder around a communal table running straight down Grand Avenue in downtown Pacific Grove. Guests noshed on dishes by local restaurants and sipped regional wines, all under strings of lights making for a picturesque event.
Dubbed Salud Pacific Grove, it was an experiment run by City Manager Ben Harvey, who’s been focused on bringing more life and commerce to town. Seven months later, the spirit of that experiment is living on in P.G. Al Fresco, a 30-day trial closing of two blocks of the city’s main street, Lighthouse Avenue, between 16th and Forest and between Grand and Fountain, begins on Friday, June 12.
The city is licensing “pieces of asphalt” to any P.G. restaurant or business that wants to set up tables and chairs for dining or display tables to sell wares, Harvey says. The city is providing fire pits, corn hole games and those strings of lights to provide ambiance. A couple of guitarists are set to perform unamplified music on Friday.
Restaurants will be able to serve alcohol with permits from the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control. So far restaurants Poppy Hall, Wild Fish and Crema are signed up.
“I really believe restaurants are part of the important fabric of the town, they really are the heart and soul,” says Harvey, who hopes the trial will help P.G. restaurants now struggling due to the pandemic (see story, p. 22). “A town without restaurants is really a dead town.”
The plan is not without criticism from some residents and retail business owners about having the downtown’s main thoroughfare blocked off. The Pacific Grove City Council will weigh in on the pilot at a meeting on June 17.
Seaside is embarking on its own one-night experiment beginning at 5pm on Saturday, June 13, by closing down the recently refurbished Broadway Avenue between Alhambra Street and Fremont Boulevard. The Seaside City Council unanimously approved the plan on June 4, despite concerns raised by councilmembers over whether business owners were given enough notice, safety, accessibility and the potential spread of Covid-19.
Seaside Economic Development Director Kurt Overmeyer plans on watching for things like how many people attend and how well they comply with social distancing. If it works, he’ll advocate continuing the program; if not, he says they’ll simply undo it. City officials are also encouraging bike travel and investigating scooter-sharing companies.
Carmel’s outdoor dining program, which began Memorial Day weekend, continues, but a conflict needs to be resolved: A city ordinance prohibits alcohol outside, but restaurateurs need to sell alcohol to make it work financially.
“You’re looking at bankruptcies if you don’t allow alcohol outside,” Suzanne Gravelle of Carmel Reservation Service said during a May 29 Carmel City Council meeting. That sentiment was echoed by several others. Carmel City Council is scheduled to revisit the question of alcohol and outdoor dining during a meeting scheduled for June 16.