Chinatown’s historic Mott Street is transformed into an outdoor dining oasis

July 30, 2020

All photos courtesy of Emily Andrews for Rockwell Group

Chinatown’s Mott Street got a colorful upgrade on Wednesday with a block-long outdoor installation designed by architect David Rockwell. His firm, Rockwell Group, launched DineOut NYC earlier this summer to help New York City restaurants safely open outside by providing design templates for creative ways to use sidewalk and street space. Mott Street, now closed to cars between Mosco and Worth Streets, serves as the program’s first community-wide dining area, with multiple restaurants on the strip using the facilities.

Designed in coordination with NYC Hospitality Alliance, DineOut NYC templates are modular, adaptable, and include cost-effective measures for restaurants to serve diners while following public health guidelines. The set-up involves booths, wooden decking panels, fencing, and lots of plants.

“Restaurants have never been more important to the vitality of our City,” David Rockwell said in a press release. “In addition to their importance to the local economy, they create a sense of urban vitality by serving neighbors and visitors and attracting people to different parts of the City. What happens on our sidewalks and streets, we are learning, is critical to how we pull through this as a City. It is a moment for us to rethink the value of urban space and ensure that it is used to the benefit of the City.”

Local artist Sammi Qu-Kwok made stencils of different dim sum designs on the dining modules and students from the nearby Transfiguration School painted them in bright colors. Think! Chinatown artist James Chan also contributed stunning artwork as interactive tabletop designs, equipped with scannable QR codes.

Thanks to partners of the program, Moet Hennessey, Resy, and Amerian Express, the Chinatown restaurants did not have to pay for the outdoor dining set up. Room & Board provided the furniture.

The Chinatown Partnership, which will be responsible for maintaining the general area, worked with the Alliance and the city’s Department of Transportation to identify the area. Small businesses in Chinatown have struggled since January when news first broke of the coronavirus outbreak in China, followed by a statewide closure of restaurants in March as the virus hit New York. Restaurant owners and local leaders hope to reactivate the neighborhood with the new alfresco setup.

“Helping historically diverse neighborhoods like Chinatown be part of the recovery process is going to take a lot of creativity and strong community, government, and private partnerships,” Council Member Margaret Chin said. “Restaurants are the heart and soul of Chinatown, but they’ve been devastated for months due to the pandemic and the xenophobia that has grown with it. Now, thanks to the DineOut NYC initiative, we have an opportunity to dramatically transform and activate Mott Street through an exciting communal outdoor dining design.”

Melba’s Restaurant in Harlem became the first restaurant to utilize Rockwell Group’s pro bono DineOut designs. The firm, along with the NYC Hospitality Alliance, identified six restaurants across the five boroughs to create a variety of dining experiences. The kit is available online for free, allowing other restaurants to follow the templates.

In addition to Melba’s, other existing DineOut NYC restaurants include Ceetay and Hudson Smokehouse in the South Bronx, Negril BK in Park Slope, Pa-Nash in Rosedale, and The Craft House and Kills Boro Brewing in Tompkinsville. Another communal dining area like the one on Mott Street will come to a location in Queens next.

Outdoor dining has proven popular since the city first launched the Open Restaurants program as part of the city’s phase two of reopening at the end of June. As of Thursday, more than 9,500 restaurants have set up space outside, with over 180 establishments participating in the city’s weekend-only open streets dining program. With indoor dining on hold in the city, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced earlier this month that outdoor dining will be extended through October 31.


All photos courtesy of Emily Andrews for Rockwell Group

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