At fifty years old, the venerable Beach Café (70th Street and Second Avenue) is one of many local restaurants coping with an ever challenging pandemic.
Famous regulars over the years have included, in part, Howard Cosell, Mary Tyler Moore, Carl Bernstein, Mayor John Lindsay, George Plimpton, Kurt Vonnegut, Jule Styne, John Kennedy Jr. and Arthur Miller. “Miller used to come for lunch every Wednesday and would always request a very attractive blond waitress named Corey. Corey was a flirt to say the least and had beautiful blond hair which might have brought Miller back in time reminding him of another pretty blond that caught his attention. He was quiet, respectful and kept to himself.”
The neighborhood haven purchased by Dave Goodside and his partners in 2005, not only offers the kind of comfortable, friendly environment where (not famous) regulars are greeted by name and a reliable kitchen, but beginning in 2017, evolved to include weekend cabaret performances.
While 1300 New York City restaurants closed between March and July, The Beach never shut down. “I was concerned about staff staying employed, so we focused on delivery from the day dining rooms were closed mid-March and embarked on a daily email blast with specials and stories,” he tells me.
The Upper East Side denizen (Goodside lives across the street), also matched Go-Fund-Me donations to offer free brown bag meals every Wednesday for two months to any hospital employee. When take-out bar drinks were permitted, The Beach again pivoted and on June 22, it opened outside seating which extended into the street July 7th.
Keeping up with changing requirements has been demanding. For awhile, there was confusion about efficacy and regulations where masks are concerned. Separation of diners, containment/barricades, health of staff (temperatures are taken every day, masks worn, hand-sanitizers used) and sanitary serveware are only part of new preoccupations.
“Business Interruption Insurance has tripled. It costs $70,000 for an operation our size. Some landlords now insist on this. It remains to be seen whether commercial tenants can comply. Restaurants are classically run with two weeks’ cash on hand. Especially with smaller venues, there’s no piggy bank to break open. I have a fan that broke today. Repair has been estimated at $5000.” (While I was there interviewing Goodside, this was addressed.)
Inspectors from the NYPD, Mayor’s office, the NYC DOB (Department of Buildings), The NYC DOT (Department of Transportation), and The NYPD Sheriff’s Department have made themselves known. “We appreciate and thank police when they come to check out our operation. They have a very difficult job and we support all our civil servants.”
Many venues merely move bar tables out to the sidewalk or add an occasional plant. Appearance has become even more integral to success. The Beach stands out not only for adherence to safety measures, but also attractiveness. Its Mediterranean look was achieved by applying a blue and white theme to attractive umbrellas and by planting street walls.
When the city decided on a date for street use, restructuring had to be accomplished quickly. Having had a garage workshop in his Connecticut youth, Goodside was conversant with power tools and lumber yards. The owner built his own round-edged floral barriers. (At this point, he can cook a burger, concoct salad, and make minor repairs.)
Between each set-up are freestanding “screens” comprised of wood-frames with transparent, plastic insets. Regularly walking the neighborhood, Goodside saw some of these being delivered to another café and tracked down the creator, a local picture framer perceptive enough to adapt to the times. Dividers are sized to order.
Umbrellas were purchased retail at Home Depot, a store Goodside praises for delivery and returns. “I wore the hinges off the doors.” Blue and white checked tablecloths remain. The Beach prides itself on being neighborhood-casual and takes on no airs. It’s bright, clean and welcoming, so fresh-looking people sometimes ask whether the restaurant is new.
Unlike many absentee owners, the owner is on premises before opening and leaves after closure. Though large plants are chained ($600 worth were stolen early on), circumstances have necessitated hiring a night security guard at additional expense.
In anticipation of being allowed to remain enlarged until the projected October 31 date, Goodside’s already purchasing heaters. As New York doesn’t allow propane, these must be attached to gas lines which entails permits and plumbing. When/if the city restricts street use, the number of outdoor tables here could shrink to 8 or 10. At that point additional inside dining will be vital. According to The New York Times, 10,000 restaurants have opened outdoors taking advantage of tenuous lifelines since July 7th. Semblance of regular days has become paramount.
What about outdoor music? The Beach has unfortunately received telephone complaints from residents in proximity even when strolling musicians visit. (Performers are asked to lower the volume of any utilized speakers.) What seems like unreasonable city guidelines banning ticketed music events and music with cover charges means that venues and artists alike are deprived of that source of income while patrons miss entertainment suggesting normalcy.
I ask about the proprietor’s feelings concerning the future. “I’m optimistic. I think there’s gonna be a lot of losers, but some winners. If you come in every day and keep your eyes and ears open, opportunity is there to seize.” Dave Goodside says he’s learned a great deal during these trying times. If worst comes to worst, he’ll take that knowledge and enthusiasm outside the city. That would be a genuine pity.
All quotes are Dave Goodside.
Statistics from The New York Times
Exterior photos by Stephen Hanks; Interior photo courtesy of The Beach Cafe