Ri Ra Irish Pub and State Street Saloon want to offer their patrons outdoor dining with alcohol service this summer, according to City Manager John Bohenko.
The two establishments contacted city officials shortly after the City Council approved a new “outdoor dining with alcohol service” policy in March. They have until May 1 to submit their applications.
Bohenko said Popovers on the Square and The District have also expressed interest in obtaining two of the six available outdoor cafe licenses. At this point, Bohenko could not say how many tables Ri Ra or State Street Saloon may want to set up outside.
Last summer, both restaurants offered outdoor dining without alcohol and the owners of both restaurants indicated they would seek the new outdoor cafe licenses once the City Council had established a new policy.
Tim Murphy, the assistant general manager at Ri Ra, said the restaurant hopes to have eight to 10 tables in a rectangular area located between the restaurant’s two front steps. He said the sidewalk cafe area would extend to the back of the park benches on Pleasant Street and the 4-foot black iron fence would enclose one of the city’s trees.
“We have to have at least 10 feet beyond the barrier wall,” said Murphy on Tuesday afternoon. If approved by the City Council, Murphy said Ri Ra would serve outdoor dining patrons lunch and dinner along with alcohol, if they prefer.
He said the prospect of having up to four downtown restaurants with sidewalk cafe dining with alcohol service this summer is exciting.
“I’m looking forward to this for Portsmouth, not just us,” Murphy said. “It just makes the downtown more vibrant, more appealing.”
Murphy said the sidewalk cafe dining would help the Irish pub also because it would increase their exposure. Three years after Ri Ra opened, he said they still see patrons who believe the restaurant is still part of the First National Bank or the former Jewelry Exchange because those signs still exist on the front of the building that houses Ri Ra.
Murphy is also curious to see what other Portsmouth restaurants might apply for the sidewalk cafe licenses.
Bohenko said the city has not heard from any other Portsmouth restaurants to see if they also want to pursue outdoor cafe licenses. He said there is no limit to the number of restaurants that can submit written applications by the May 1 deadline, but the policy stipulates the City Council will grant just six outdoor dining with alcohol service licenses per year.
The policy mirrors the policy created under the pilot program the city launched in 2011 that allowed Popovers on the Square and The District to provide gated sidewalk cafes with alcohol service.
The policy grants licenses on an annual basis for a six-month period from mid-April through mid-October. The city will charge businesses a $10 per square foot fee for the area used for outdoor dining and the minimum fee would be $2,000 even if the size of the area is less than 200 square feet.
In Market Square, the policy states the minimum width for the pedestrian way adjacent to the area shall be 10- to 12- feet depending on the site conditions. In all other areas where sidewalk cafes are allowed, the minimum width for pedestrian ways adjacent to the area shall be a minimum of 5 feet and meet federal Americans with Disabilities Act guidelines. The policy also calls for no smoking and no outdoor music.