New York City Pop-up Cafes

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The New York City Department of Transportation has a program that partners with local businesses to install pop-up cafés in parking spaces during the warmer weather months. These spaces can be installed with a minimal amount of time and money (cost has averaged at around $10,000). At the end of season, the sponsoring businesses must remove and store the installation.  The city calls these spaces "Street Seats", and they are not limited to cafes: "Any type of business or institution that owns or operates frontage at the ground floor of a building may be eligible to install a Street Seat."

Businesses that apply to participate in the program have to meet design guidelines, but they can spend as much or as little money as they want. The spaces must be maintained by the sponsoring business and be open to all members of the public, regardless of whether or not they buy anything. The city only provides the permission, and it does not fund any of the costs. Service at the seats is limited by the regulation : "the sponsoring business may not take orders nor exchange money in the Street Seat. However, if patrons order products inside the business, they may be brought out to them at a table."

Brownsville, Brooklyn
Photo ©  New York City Street Seats Program

Smoking or alcohol drinking at the spaces is forbidden. Some businesses just hope to attract foot traffic with their cafes.  From the point of view of the city, the cafes should  provide neighborhood gathering places to socialize, and hopefully they would also help "beautify" the streets with attractive landscaping or sylish structures. Note that the information provided here is only of a summary nature. Interested parties need to consult the city regulations.

Siting and Operation

The cafes or seats are meant to take the place of parking spaces, so their platforms widths are restricted to 6 feet, in order to be narrower than surrounding parked cars. The maximum length of the platform is limited to the frontage of the sponsoring business. Locations are also limited by safety and practical considerations: "The adjoining sidewalk must be free of major obstructions and fire hydrants, driveways, or bus stops." During the months of operation, the installation and surrounding area must be routinely cleaned and maintained by the sponsoring business.



The installations "must be designed by a New York State-certified architect or engineer and installed by a licensed contractor," and they are inspected by the city. Some standard designs are available to reduce design costs. One standard design is characterized by a platform that is flush with the sidewalk to provide wheelchair access. Another standard design sits directly on the roadbed, but it requires a ramp for wheelchair access. The detailed implementation of the standard designs must still be signed and sealed by a New York State-certified architect or engineer.

"All installations must include plantings that screen the seating area from traffic while still providing visual permeability across the street and a continuous open edge along the curb. The installations must maintain roadway drainage, be ADA complaint, and also allow for access to any below-ground utilities." The sidewalk-facing side of the platform should be open to pedestrians. 

Sullivan Street Cafe

One example of this program was the space created on Sullivan Street by the owners of the Local restaurant. They built a temporary, 16-foot wooden deck in two parking spots in front of their restaurant. They thought of it as more of their "porch" rather than a pop-up cafe. The deck is enclosed on three sides by four-foot high walls, topped with sea grass plantings. There are benches all around the wall, and an umbrella provides shading. Quoting a user: "This is a nice outside area to sit in and to be a part of the street."

   Photo © Sullivan Street Local Restaurant.


This website is not a professional guide, but an editing of existing referenced material for educational purposes. The website author assumes no responsibility for any problems resulting from using the material presented in this website.

New York City Street Seats Program

Project for Public Spaces: A Day in the Life of a Pop-Up Café

Transportation Nation: NYC Neighbors React to Pop-Up Cafes

Tree Hugger: A NYC Coffee Shop Transforms its Parking Spaces into Outdoor Seating