Gate City Opens Big for Bars and Restaurants
Innovative Policies Transform Downtown Nashua Into Foodie Hot Spot
Every city does something better than its neighbors.
Nashua, New Hampshire, for example, has managed to keep its downtown fresh and interesting and vital in an era where city centers everywhere are struggling. Locally, only Newburyport can compete with Nashua, but the healthier ratio of locals to tourists means Route 3 North is the way to go.
It should be no great surprise that even in these odd, perilous times, downtown Nashua has once again risen to the occasion.
Drive down Main Street on a glorious summer’s evening and you’ll likely find the downtown is all but crawling with people of all ages, most of them eating and drinking and clearly having a ball.
How is that possible, you say? New Hampshire recently allowed restaurants to open but only for outdoor dining. Nashua has embraced that in a big way.
The Board of Alderman recently passed an $80,000 project to purchase and install dozens of Jersey barriers downtown. Those barriers effectively shrink Main Street from four-plus lanes to just two for much of the, oh, quarter-mile that runs smack through the heart of Nashua.
What’s on the other side of those new barriers? Tables and tables and tables and chairs and chair and more chairs. Nearly a dozen eateries now offer al fresco dining. Some never had before, and others never to the extent they are now.
And it’s not only the Big Kids benefiting from the new arrangement. Oh sure, San Francisco Kitchen, Surf, and Odd Fellows Brewery suddenly have all kinds of outdoor dining, but so do Main Street Gyro, and tiny Nashua Garden.
The new concept, drafted by the city’s director of economic development, Tim Cummings, is in effect until mid-November. Cummings said the project was a team effort involving the public, local businesses, and several city departments.
The idea, he explained, was a variation of the “parklets” set up in various cities around the world. But instead of a small park, outdoor dining was the focus.
“Functional was a priority,” he added, “Aesthetics was secondary.”
The plan has been clearly embraced by area residents. Anyone who drove by Martha’s Exchange early afternoon Wednesday would have seen dozens of folks hanging out, enjoying the summer sun, and, well, eating and drinking just like the old days.
That same evening there were hundreds of people enjoying a much-desired night out.
“A lot of our customers really like [the new arrangement] because they were tired of being cooped up,” said a San Francisco Kitchen employee who preferred to stay anonymous. “It’s been all good for us.”
Now of course you’re going to have questions, so here are some answers:
- Every server we spied was wearing a mask, and most were wearing gloves, too.
- Not one customer had a mask. But folks were there to eat and drink and chat, and masks kinda get in the way, y’know? Besides, ample recent studies indicate it’s much, much more difficult to pick up the contagion in any outside setting.
- I can’t say people were practicing social distancing as an absolute rule, but most seemed to be at least aware of it.
One of the many advantages of living in the Merrimack Valley is that we are within easy driving distance of at least three states and can add a couple more with little effort.
So, a while back I gave up trying to remember which state allows what. Mandatory masks? Suggested glovery? Requested tin foil hats? Did I just read a Midwest State is now demanding full suits of armor?
All I know is that right now downtown Nashua’s foodie scene is once again happening in a big way, and it should be a template for what takes place in June when the Bay State’s restaurants will also be allowed to establish outdoor dining options.