Bob McPhail 6:31 a.m., May 19
Jes’ thinking about the whole café awning issue (see Outdoor cafes: Gimme shelter!") I was complaining that café owners and the cities that regulate them don’t encourage enough shelter for us outside sitters in these sun-searing days.
They had outside awnings for Vincent back in 1888...
Then the beautiful Carla found an image of a Paris café that had roll-out awnings. See this pic of Café Beaubourg in Paris. (OK, the awnings don't go all the way, but this is cool Paris, not hot Arles, where Van Gough was painting.)
But here’s what really hit me, looking at these pix: It’s just the sheer size of their sidewalk seating. I mean enough for hundreds, just about.
Why does this make you yearn to be there, be part of it?
And suddenly you get it.
The sociological question in this situation is: who are the animals in the zoo, and who are the spectators looking at them? Is it the café customers sitting watching the world go by, or the passing world looking at this clump of peeps on exhibit?
What it comes down to, I say, is critical mass. Like, if there’s just one little mean row of tables, and they’re fenced in by the regulation wrought-iron railing, then the customers are the zoo animals. We passers-by are looking at them as they sip and chew with a little embarrassment at having their chewing style put on display.
But if, like with Café Beaubourg, the numbers balance tips in favor of the cafeistas, suddenly, they are the majority. So hey, now it’s the passers-by who feel like they’re being scrutinized like models on a runway, animals in the zoo, to be watched by this crowd of sippers. I think that's the Grand Cafe secret: People come for this very reason, to watch the world go by, supported by fellow-sybarites/epicurians/bon vivants/lotus-eaters (heh heh, jes’ looked these up).
Where would we have the space to do this in San Diego? No contest: Broadway is way broad enough. It has the potential to become our Champs Elysées. Just narrow the traffic lanes a bit, and widen the sidewalks.
And while we’re about it, let’s put the traffic underground where Horton Plaza is, and then it could become a true plaza, with big-terrace cafes sprouting on every side, specially in front of the US Grant Hotel. What a terrazza that would make!
We’ve got the weather. Have the planners got the guts?