As the end of the first summer of outdoor dining on Forest St. comes to a close, the transformation of the area to New Canaan's "restaurant row" has been a huge success.
"A lot of the businesses and restaurants thought they were the stepsister to Main and Elm," Tucker Murphy, executive director of New Canaan's Chamber of Commerce, told Patch. "You walk down there on a summer night and everybody's out there, eating and saying hello. Forest St. now has an identity of its own."
The Chamber of Commerce has been advocating for this new addition to New Canaan's downtown for a while. "A year or two ago we changed a few things to make it easier for restaurants to apply for outdoor dining," Murphy said, "and that's what we've done."
Billy Auer, owner of Bistro Bonne Nuit, agrees, "It was great -- a really nice experience for diners, and with the lack of rain, we had a perfect summer for outdoor dining." Auer also owns Gates Restaurant, which doesn't have frontage to accommodate seating.
Nearby restaurants, Cava Wine Bar and Restaurant and New Canaan Diner were able to take advantage of the outdoor space and were pleased wih the results. "I wish summer could continue all year," Juan Zuniga, manager of New Canaan Diner said. "It's excellent. The best thing that's happened in New Canaan." In fact, all the restaurants Patch spoke to plan on continuing outdoor dining as long as the weather permits.
Tequila Mockingbird has limited sidewalk area, but owner Paul Mauk indicated that while business was good this summer, he plans on participating in al fresco dining next summer. "We'll put out some kind of table set-up with round umbrellas...we might have room for two tables," he said.
Local resident, Becca Hawley, having just dined on Forest St., told Patch that next summer she'd love to see the street closed to traffic during dinner hours. Mauk suggested stringing lights across the street to create a festive atmosphere.
Other businesses along the street were equally pleased with its new look. "Since redoing the street, it's been night and day from what it was," said Forest Street Deli owner, Bob Watters. "It refocuses people to this side of town and improves the nightlife."
Nuccia Mazzonetto, owner of Gelatissimo Artisan Gelato agrees, "It helped to change the street and brings people down to Forest St. This whole area of town has become a great dining experience."
Retail and service merchants on the street have also found the outdoor dining experience to be a benefit. Chelsea Oh, owner of Chez Chelsea spa, told Patch, "Forest St. has been out of the way, but now people will sit outside, look across the street and they'll notice our place and remember it."
Businesses are always pleased to see their clientele expand and the "new" Forest St. may help to do just that. One recent late afternoon, Allison Birkmeyer, Stefano Verrier and Bartolomeo Bellati, having toured the Philip Johnson Glass House, asked a resident for an outdoor dining recommendation and were directed to Forest St. Birkmeyer is from Greenwich and Verrier and Bellati are from New York City.
Tucker Murphy acknowledged that "some landlords were concerned they'd be losing parking with the widening of the sidewalks." Turns out that wasn't a problem.
Pam Alberino, owner of New Canaan Ski and Sport told Patch, "There's been no problem with parking. Especially with Griffin Ford being redone this has become a whole new section of town. It's really cool."
Also of concern to some residents was the removal of the trees along the street, the roots of which were causing the sidewalk to heave, creating dangerous conditions for pedestrians. The trees will be replaced by large planters. According to Tiger Mann, assistant director of Public Works, a self-watering system has been ordered for the planters. "The self-watering inserts are on back-order, but as soon as they come in, the planters will be installed," said Mann. There is bound to be some loss of seating with the new planters, but Mann assures, "We will do our best to minimize the loss of seating. We'll work around the outdoor seating."
The next step in the Forest St. evolution will happen when a new tenant moves into the old Griffin Ford property at the north end of the street.
And there will be more to come next year, Murphy told Patch. "We're looking forward to the Chamber of Commerce launching the First Annual Restaurant Week in late spring of 2011. Stay tuned..."