Friday Feature: Pop-up Cafes

There is a lot to be said about how spontaneity can bring interest and intrigue back to city streets and public spaces.  It really isn’t surprising that impromptu guerilla art (think moss graffiti and yarn bombing) and random acts of culture (here’s an example from Ontario) get a lot of attention – people like to see their everyday places and spaces shaken up and re-arranged.  It reminds us that the city is a living, breathing entity.

Following this week’s post about Pop-up Shops, I thought it only fitting to talk about all of the buzz that New York’s Pop-up Cafes have been garnering.  The collaboration between business owners and government departments, namely the department of transportation (DOT), turns parking spaces into public seating areas.  San Francisco’s Pavement to Parks program is similar.

The New York DOT’s press-release describes their pilot cafe as “an innovative, temporary new curbside seating platform that provides workers, residents and visitors on Pearl Street in Lower Manhattan with a needed public space to sit and enjoy a cup of coffee, a quick sandwich, or just to take in the area’s busy streetscape.”

That’s right – these cafes are public space, which means anyone can sit there at any time! The businesses are responsible for the installation and maintenance of the cafe spaces while the DOT helps to connect them with consultants and firms to create the space, and allows them to convert loading spaces into seating.  It is a great example of how policy makers can enable interesting projects and build public space into dense urban settings.

So far the adjacent businesses report an increase in sales (not surprisingly) and the program has been so successful that next year New York plans to expand the concept throughout the city.  Here is a great slideshow of photos from the project – I love the addition of planters to clearly delineate the spaces for pedestrians and vehicle uses.  The bright patio furniture also adds some fun to the street.

All of this made me think of our own local “pop-up” style patio – the wooden sidewalk that gets installed in front of O’Hanlons and Michi during the summer. The concept is simple and judging from how full the patio is during the afternoon and evening, it’s a successful model.  In this case however, the parking spaces have been used for the sidewalk instead of cafe space and the patio is solely for patrons of the restaurants (i.e. not public).  The only other patio space I can think of in Regina’s downtown (that isn’t on Scarth Street) is the walkway by the Green Spot – it too gets good use during lunch hours downtown, though I suspect they could use a bit more seating.

But why stop at one or a few open air spaces?  There still exists a lot of potential to increase seasonal public patios throughout our downtown.  Picture a few parking spaces turned into an public patio by Aegean Coast (to supplement their small business patio).  Or, even better, the small park/garden by the RPL could be transformed into a pop-up cafe (a similar idea was presented as part of the Regina downtown plan, so let’s get on it).  You could enjoy sitting in the shade to read the book you just borrowed, sip your coffee and watch passers-by, or relax while waiting for the bus.  In my opinion, you can never have too many intriguing public nooks and crannies.

Have a great weekend!

** top photo via RG Architects

Friday Feature: Pop-up Cafes

2 thoughts on “Friday Feature: Pop-up Cafes

  1. We filmed this pop-up Cafe in the Sakatoon Framer’s Market last August for an episode of the”Untamed Gourmet”.
    “The restaurant is called Cultivate and the theme is Canadian cuisine—classic comfort food elevated to the level of fine dining—entirely prepared and served by a group of culinary students on their summer break. “When young chefs work in a kitchen, they do a lot of chopping and prepping, but they don’t get a lot of opportunity to cook,” says Mathieu. “Now they’re going to learn to run a restaurant, from cooking to paying the bills.”

    As if to prove the truth of it, he invited my husband and me to a “pop up” restaurant for just us two, where three of his students practiced preparing some of the dishes that will appear on the menu of Cultivate.”(

    Very cool concept. I can picture the “Novia Cafe” having a weekend pop up cafe that serves funky breakfasts in the summer!

    1. Bear – absolutely! The beauty of these pop-up spaces is that they are temporary. This could mean for a whole summer, or just for a week, or day.

      What I love about the spaces that New York is playing with is the concept that they are public space and not attached to a particular business and are not reserved for customers. That said, I’d love to see more of Regina’s downtown businesses moving out into the street during the summer. Perhaps once the new plaza space is completed, the Novia could spread out a bit.

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