RESTAURANTS OPEN AGAIN
By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
COOPERSTOWN – Alien spacecraft have not landed in the parking lot of Bocca Osteria, manager Art Boden assures everyone – they’re just the restaurant’s new dining “bubbles.”
“These days, with the coronavirus and people concerned about their health issues, we want our customers to feel safe,” he said. “So now they can dine in their own little bubble.”
Though Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that Otsego County had moved to Phase Three of NY Forward on Friday, June 12, allowing indoor dining at 50-percent capacity, the novelty of the bubbles themselves have proved popular.
“It’s a little out of the ordinary,” he said. “People come in specifically to request them.”
Owner Joe Vezza first saw the bubbles while on a family vacation last year. “He was intrigued, so when he got back, he started looking at them online,” said Boden. “They seemed popular, so he ordered a few.”
Vezza purchased three of the plastic tents, made by Alvantor, to place over tables on the patio at Bocca, two for regular tables with seating up to four people, and one for a tall-top table with barstools. Two sides of the tent unzip, although Vezza usually leaves one open and one closed.
“It can get a little warm in there when the sun hits just right, so we can open up the other zipper and get a little airflow,” he said.
And when the pandemic hit, they were primed to be a perfect purchase. “With my own health issues, I understand wanting to have these kinds of precautions in place,” Boden said. “I’m sympathetic to people who are concerned about their health, but feel trapped indoors.”
On June 3, Cuomo announced that outdoor dining was allowed, and the bubbles went up.
Bocca also has a tent – another isolated space. “We’ve been doing live music in our parking lots,” he said. “So we use the tent during the week for some shade, and on Saturday, we use it for the live music.”
Over the weekend, many restaurants finally opened their doors to diners, with extensive stipulations, including plastic or pre-wrapped silverware, no more than 10 in a party and, of course, social distancing. Diners must wear masks until they are seated and whenever they get up from the table, and servers must have them on at all times.
“We wipe everything down after every diner,” Boden said. “We’ve got all the tables at Bocca lined up, but because Upstate is bigger, we can customize the seating a little easier. But it’s forced all of us in the industry to do things more cautiously to make common cause of being safe and healthy.”
And with the dining restrictions eased, Boden said that traffic over the weekend was steady.
“Without Dreams Park, locals are having their way with Cooperstown!” he said. “It’s been so nice to see everyone’s friendly face.”
Come fall, the bubbles might help extend the outdoor dining season for the hungry leaf-peeper, or offer a cozy place for a meal as the snow comes down.
“We’re trying to be creative,” he said. “We’re taking advantage of a unique experience.”