Eyes on the Street: Restaurants Make Room for Customers Instead of Cars

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The former parking lot and dumpster zone at Gino’s East in Lakeview is now a seating area. Photos: Google Street View, John Greenfield

It’s encouraging to see that more and more business owners have come to understand that accommodating people, rather than automobiles, is good for the bottom line.

This summer we should see the city’s first “Curbside Cafes,” outdoor seating areas where it’s restaurants and bars may serve food and drinks, located in the parking lane on streets where the sidewalk is too narrow for sidewalk cafes. Although the new ordinance that legalized this practice is overly restrictive — Curbside Cafes are only allowed on designated Pedestrian Streets where the sidewalk is narrower than eight feet — two of the cafes are planned for East Lakeview.

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What was once parking for 13 cars at the Golden Angel is now seating for dozens of customers at Lou Malnatti’s. Photos: Google Street View

When Lou Malnatti’s Pizzeria purchased the Golden Angel diner, 4344 North Lincoln in North Center, they originally proposed reducing the number of parking lot spaces from 13 to seven to make room for outdoor seating and additional greenery. In the end, they decided to go for the gusto and eliminate all of the off-street parking, as well as both of the curb cuts, which improves the pedestrian environment. The result: Lots more space for customers to enjoy their Jon Stewart-endorsed deep-dish.

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One of the former curb cuts at Gino’s East has been turned into a landscaped area. Photo: John Greenfield

Maybe there’s something about the round pies that makes pizzerias less square when it comes parking issues. A couple miles up the road, a Gino’s East branch at 2801 North Lincoln in Lakeview has done a similar makeover. They’ve converted their small parking lot, which also housed their dumpsters, to a fenced-in outdoor seating area. Again, both of the curb cuts have been eliminated. As a bonus, one of the former curb cuts has been landscaped, creating a permeable surface that helps with storm water management.

Kudos to these restaurants for choosing space for people over parking. I’m hungry to see more of these makeovers in the future.

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  • How ironic to see the car ad on the wall at Gino’s in an otherwise great picture of a marvelous trend. I live close to the Lou Malnatti’s, it has made that intersection so much more attractive and visible. BTW—anyone who reads this; if you can, please consider helping John and Steven to continue bringing great articles to Chicago and click the Donate button. It’s easy.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    Thanks Sebastian. Fundraising has been progressing steadily — you’ll see the mercury in the Donate-O-Meter rise significantly next week. But it is time to shift our efforts into a higher gear — thanks for the reminder to readers.

  • Jeff Gio

    Not the best example, but Small Cheval’s outdoor patio occupies the entire lot which previously was mostly used for parking

  • duppie

    So, which one serve the better pizza?

  • JacobEPeters

    If only the Cozy Corner location NEXT TO the California Blue Line station had taken this approach. Instead multiple curb cuts & car dominated landscape literally in the shadow of a 24 hour train station.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    Seems like a great example, actually.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    How about the dollar store just southeast with the huge parking lot? Or the triangular a block south of the station, currently used as parking for Masada restaurant? Those sites seem like likely candidates for TODs in the coming years.

  • JacobEPeters

    I was more referring to the giant rehab & expansion Cozy Corner did while simultaneously ignoring their biggest asset. They evicted my corner grocer & I haven’t been back to Cozy since. I am afraid the amount of money they (& Family Dollar) invested in their rehab might make it a long time before that half block is rebuilt to better fit its location. If only both had relocated into the ground floor of new mixed use buildings.

    I’m afraid that we will lose Cafe Marianao to the redevelopment of the former Family Dollar block.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    Are you sure Cozy Corner literally evicted the grocer — i.e., did the Cozy Corner owner also own the building that housed the store?

    Agreed, unfortunately it’s possible Cafe Marianao, a great little place for Cuban sandwiches and cafe con leche, which seems to have a mostly blue-collar, Latino clientele, will leave the neighborhood as the demographics continue to change. Hopefully it will get plenty of business from the new residents as well.

  • JacobEPeters

    That was what the people who ran the grocer said.

    I actually think Cafe Con Leche will survive for awhile, with d’noche bringing people into the space in the evenings it has a nice symbiosis going on. Unlike the Cafe Con Leche location that now is Small Cheval.

  • Pet P

    Why not just eliminate all parking lots in the entire city? Well, I suppose we could keep the $25 an hour garages, so the rich still have a place to park.

  • While its nice the open land is seating instead of parking, the Lou’s building was constructed new and should be a dense project, rather than a one-story retail. From a planning/architecture standpoint, its no better than the single use banks or Walgreens that we all complain about. Perhaps if there was a minimum required residential density in the CZO we wouldn’t be subject to someone’s low density whims.

  • Walgreens does now serve perishable food, but it’s a stretch IMO to describe them (much less a bank) as retail the way Lou’s is. http://www.cityofchicago.org/city/en/progs/inspectionspermitting/retailfood.html

    Also, I’m pretty sure banks and Walgreens don’t deliver late at night. This is exactly the kind of high density amenity people expect on the North Side, so from a planning standpoint, there was a restaurant here with significant
    space dedicated for parking, now there is a restaurant here
    accommodating outdoor seating that also feeds people far beyond its
    footprint.

    Think of this project as complementing high density, not an enemy of it. They also serve locally crafted beer, so they are actually having a daily positive impact on the larger economy.

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