A waterfront street in Baltimore, normally reserved for cars, was instead filled with tables and diners for the inaugural Fells Point Al Fresco on June 12. Fells Point is a historic waterfront district lined with a mix of businesses, restaurants, bars, and row homes. Without cars on the street, people were able to walk around freely and enjoy open-air waterfront dining from restaurants on the block.
The rescheduled event (postponed because of thunderstorms) went off without a hitch. Erica Russo, owner of The Point, said that she did not know what to expect with the new concept, but that they were blown away by the response. “We cooked Italian themed food for 125 people, and were sold out by 9 pm. To us, that’s a great turnout.”
Fells Point Al Fresco is the first Wednesday of the month from June through September, and will cycle through different blocks. It’s sponsored by Fells Point Main Street, and each month will have a different theme. The inaugural event featured Italian food.
Misty Keens, Executive Director of Fells Point Main Street, said that the idea behind the themes was to give residents an extra reason to come out. “Even if you have been to these restaurants before, you will still be able to try something new.”
Shelby Stephenson, events coordinator of Woody’s, Kooper’s, and Slainte said, “We loved the al fresco event. The Italian theme helped bring new offerings to our regular customers, and the extended outdoor dining brought us new faces.”
Stephenson also pointed out that her restaurants will have the chance to participate next month when the 800 block of Broadway is opened to pedestrians. “We will definitely be participating again next month…Our only regret is that we didn’t put more tables outside!”
Al fresco dining, an Italian phase meaning “in the open air,” is limited in Fells Point to a couple of tables on the sidewalk. While this block has over 60 feet of street width for parking and travel lanes, the 12-foot sidewalk is shared between pedestrians, mobility devices, utility poles, and dining tables.
The loss of parking in front of the restaurant did not concern the participating restaurants. According to Patrick Russell, co-owner of Woody’s Cantina and Koopers, he was more concerned with the weather than with the loss in parking. “The parking was not an issue. As a matter of fact, [the 1700 block of Thames Street] should always be like that.”
Keens agreed. “Parking is an attitude shift. For Fells, we need to see it as people coming down to stay, and not to just pop in.” She pointed out that many of the garages in the area even have cheaper parking than can be found on the street. “However, before we can expand this to Friday or Saturday, we need to show results and do it thoughtfully. If people can’t park, then they will go away.”
Keens did say that there were some issues with traffic flow from the Fells Point offices that will need to be better communicated, and “Also, we need more tables.”
“I commend our retailers and restaurants and Main Street for thinking outside the box and planning events like this to provide something new and fun for residents and visitors alike,” said Brooke Lierman, state delegate for southeast Baltimore and Fells Point resident. She was thrilled to see the success of the outdoor dining.
“Sometimes in Baltimore we get into the habit of thinking that if there is no parking, no one will come, but I just don’t believe that’s true,” Lierman said. “People want to be a part of unique community events, and this car-free evening is just that.“
If you’re interested in checking out other Fells Point Al Fresco events, July 3 will be held on the 800 block of Broadway with an American theme. August 7 will be on the 1600 block of Thames with a Greek theme. September 4 will be on the 700 block of Broadway with a Mexican theme. Keens says, “We are already looking to add an October date.”