No, New York Restaurants Aren’t Seating Patrons on Stairs

Slate's Culture Blog
Oct. 21 2013 4:37 PM

No, New York Restaurants Aren’t Seating Patrons on Stairs

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Not the latest restaurant trend.

Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images

The latest issue of New York remarks on a new “trendlet”: Restaurants seating patrons on staircases, or near staircases, or on structures that resemble staircases. “We really love expanding on the idea of New York stoop culture,” says one restaurateur who’s installed a set of bleachers in his gourmet salad bar. The designer of another restaurant tells New York, “Perching is something New Yorkers love to do, whether on the stoop of a brownstone or sitting on a wall.”

I have two reactions to this latter assertion. The first is that I have never, in the seven years I’ve called this fair city my home, seen a New Yorker sitting on a wall, and if I did, my first reaction would probably be to call 911 to report a potential suicide. My second reaction is that perching on stoops is not “something New Yorkers love to do.” Sitting on stoops is something New Yorkers have to do—because most of us don’t have backyards. If we want to enjoy the great outdoors without schlepping to the nearest public park (or want to smoke a cigarette without violating the terms of our leases), stoops are our only option. To describe stoop-sitting as some kind of adored hobby, like knitting or homebrewing, is to miss the point completely. You might as well talk about “expanding on the idea of Houston air-conditioning culture” or say, “Walking up hills is something San Franciscans love to do.”

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Thankfully, the trend of restaurant step seating is barely even a “trendlet.” Of the four establishments mentioned in New York’s squib, not one actually asks people to sit on steps that other people are walking up and down. One restaurant, Tao Downtown, has a few tables in nooks on each side of a staircase leading to the main dining room. Another place mentioned in the article isn’t a restaurant—it’s a training center for would-be baristas, and the steps in question are a set of bleachers (a logical choice when you’re demoing proper brewing technique in front of a crowd).

Of the other two restaurants that ostensibly serve people on stairs, one (American Table Café and Bar) added cushions to an outdoor space where people had already begun to sit; they were just trying to make it more comfortable. That leaves one restaurant, the salad bar, that actually built bleachers for people to sit on. And since the salad bar in question, Sweetgreen, is an extension of a Washington, D.C.-area chain, it seems best to take its owners’ observations about “New York stoop culture” with a grain of salt.

L.V. Anderson is a Slate assistant editor. She edits Slate's food and drink sections and writes Brow Beat's recipe column, You're Doing It Wrong. 

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