Filmmaker Shows How Outdoor Dining Has Made the UWS Look ‘Very European’ and Alive

Mark O’Toole sent us the following video in response to some of the angst that has filled the Upper West Side in recent weeks, as neighbors battle over homeless shelters and other issues.

After flipping through some recent stress-filled news reports, O’Toole shows some of the ways the neighborhood has remained lively, particularly in its street culture. And no, a few moving vans don’t mean that the neighborhood has emptied out. “It’s all shot on the UWS and somewhat counters the argument that it’s completely unsafe or that everyone has left,” he wrote in an email.

From Gray’s Papaya to Asset to Pier i Cafe, he chronicles the neighborhood’s new restaurant scene, which he notes feels “very European.” Check it out below.

He ends with a plea to “support your local restaurants, bars and business.”

He explained a little more about why he made it in an email to us:

“I’d been documenting NYC since COVID began. A lot of what I shot for my Channel was an empty NYC. However when all the news broke last month about the homeless being put into hotels on the UWS where I live, it was concerning, as it was for a lot of people. But when the story became international (i received calls from Ireland asking what happened to my neighborhood?) and then some people started to co-opt these local issues and present it as a poster child for chaos in NYC, I felt compelled to step in. Why? Because a) I’ve lived on the Upper West Side for over 16 years and I eat in these restaurants, which I believe are the lifeblood of communities and small businesses and b) this was not an accurate picture of what I was seeing on the ground. I spent about 10 days going up and down those avenues to get a better feel of the issues. What I shot in the film, I think presents a fairly accurate picture of those last 10 days. A far cry from the chaos some would have us believe exist throughout NYC. And while it’s not Disneyland personafied, it is New York after all. NYC is resilient. We have lived through recessions, natural disasters, terrorist attacks and the 1918 pandemic. We might be down now, but we are most definitely not out.

Some of the restaurants featured are Cafe Luxembourg, Playa Betty’s, Amber, Il Violino, Emerald Inn, Jacobs Pickles, Freds, Pomedoro, Pasha, St James Gate, The Dead Poet, Nice Matin, Jings, Guyers, Arte Cafe, Sala Thai, Piccolo, Emack & Bolios, High Life, Tacombi, The Gin Mill, Jakes, Mokem, Flor de Mayo, Alachi Masala, Tiki Chick, Celeste, Patsy’s, Pappardella, Lilly’s, Francesco’s Piazza, Empire Schezuan….there maybe more….it was a long night.”

O’Toole also put together a video about Broadway’s woes earlier this summer, with ways to support artists.

FOOD, NEWS | 25 comments | permalink
    1. HelenD says:

      Four shots of my immediate neighborhood appear in this video and somehow none of the homeless encampments which are literally just feet away from these outdoor restaurants are shown. A filmmaker AND a magician!

      • CrankyPants says:

        Yes! No homeless camps…And not a single pan-handler, drug or alcohol addled person or patron getting sucker punched, either. When was the last time you made it through 9:37 minutes without seeing that, lately!?

        • DrM says:

          Well, can’t argue with your screen name, CrankyPants. When was the last time you enjoyed life for 9:37 minutes? I’m out and about almost every day – very lucky to be working – and yes, I see what you see. But that doesn’t define this neighborhood or my attitude. The last time I encountered somebody asking for food (I don’t give cash) I introduced myself, asked him his name and where he’d like to get something to eat. Together we walked to his establishment of choice. “Hi”, I said, “This is my friend Chris and he’d like to place an order”. You might want to check your privilege if simply seeing bothersome is so upsetting.

    2. Bob says:

      Yeah, if it’s feasible let’s keep this outdoor dining thing even after the pandemic. Sure, we lose a little parking — but I’d much rather use the space for dining than parking. Of course there may be reasons it wouldn’t work, such as restaurants who can’t support that much seating. But if it can… I think it’s great.

      • Sarah says:

        I agree! More outdoor dining every summer. In addition to being enjoyable for some people (not everyone, I admit), it keeps the streets “activated” with traffic, which makes them safer and more pleasant.

      • Boris says:

        After the pandemic, the streets need to be returned to their intended use – parking. Restaurants aren’t the only businesses in the City and they need the availability of parking to function. Can’t gear every fix toward helping restaurants only. Especially since many restaurants haven’t been able to take advantage of the street dining, it wouldn’t be a fair solution.

        • Bob says:

          I’m pretty sure that the purpose of streets is to allow people to move through the city, not to provide storage for vehicles. Of course we need some ability to park, but as between one person storing their car for free and lots of people enjoying the same space for dining, we get a lot more value from the latter.

    3. MARC A MINICK, Ph.D.,LMSW says:

      Hi Totally agree with your assessment. Love the outdoor, European vibe of Cafe Luxembourg, Nice Matin and Paperedelle.

      Keep up your great work🌐

    4. Henry says:

      Unless you are camping or on an excursion, outdoor dining is vulgar.
      I don’t want to hear your personal problems or see rich white people spending excessive money in a time when a lot of us are holding onto every penny.

    5. EGF says:

      It’s so important for us and the world to see this along with the negative things going on. It is certainly not dead, nor a wasteland, nor as perfect as it once was in many people’s eyes but let’s stop being such alarmists and slaves to the media. You can sit home in media induced fear or take a stand for your neighborhood and support your local businesses. I for one dine out at least twice a week and support at least 3 wine shops in the area! Get out there and take back your neighborhood! (wearing a mask of course).

    6. Bob Lamm says:

      Thanks for this great film.

    7. Wijmlet says:

      and more dangerous

    8. Christian Herzeca says:

      and when the cold weather comes…?

    9. Lauren says:

      Just beautiful! Thank you so much Mr OToole for this wonderful video tribute to the business owners and residents of our neighborhood – showing how it can be done. Proud to be a 30 year UWSider –

    10. Jazzy K says:

      Bicycle lanes a few tables outside and you think this is Europe. Ha! Bunch of delusional folks. Why don’t you put yourself in the shoes of the restaurant owners. Ask them how they like it. With all those illogical rules that city requires. You want to feel European? Move there!

    11. Julia says:

      Go further north..Cafe de Soleil at Broadway 104-105 and Fumo at Broadway 107-108 are great food and spread way out (unfortunately due to closures on either side)–street sections too but can avoid them.

    12. UWS Dad says:

      Thanks WSR for sharing this. The video certainly tells the story of the UWS my family and I have seen over the last couple of months: vibrant, relaxing, resilient, safe, home.

    13. CL says:

      I live at 64th and West End. While I love the beauty captured in this video I do wish that it had a broadened perspective of diversity and people of color who live in our neighborhood. For example: the evening barbecues happening on a grill above the brick wall at Amsterdam and 61st. Or on 64th between Amsterdam and West End, a man who has set up a tent for the past week or so, and he’s grilling food for people who sit in tailgating chairs on the sidewalk, all placed six feet apart.

      Those are two small vignettes; I’m sure there are many more. What has been so enriching about the polarized dispute over the homeless hotels is how it’s making many white, affluent Upper West Side people who are liberal and progressive question their own conventional ways of thinking about things. And so this video is a wonderful example of how the Upper West Side’s lens can widen out of these conversations to become more inclusive. Thank you for reading.

    14. Gina says:

      Dear Mr. O’Tool,

      Thank you for that wonderful Video including the beginning of the NewYear. And the closing of
      this City’s greatest gift to the World the New York
      Theater. Sad when people have to engage on
      so much negativity, instead of embracing all
      the positive this great City has to offer. As a native New Yorker, born and raised in the UWS. I consider myself
      lucky to live in a City that has the best of the best
      and the worst of the worst, and yet you can always
      find something that brings us happiness. It’s full with
      generous and compassionate people, as well as self serving people. We can consider it as normal as any other major over populated City there
      is no perfect place, we have to make it great it. And the people who love living here always find a way.

    15. NazneenR says:

      Thanks to my old friend Mark for a great write-up and film. I too have been baffled by all of the apocalyptic comments from outsiders. And I completely agree that the UWS is still a great place to live.