Lessons From Spanish Cafes

Yesterday I offered some examples of outdoor seating in downtown Provo. The seating makes downtown more lively, entices more people to eat out, and generally makes for a convivial area.

But while Provo is trying to increase the amount of outdoor dining in downtown, all of the Spanish cities I visited this summer were already filled with it. The breadth and variety of cafe dining in Spain was remarkable, if expected, and below I’ve included some pictures that illustrate various useful concepts.

In hot and sunny Madrid, this restaurant has placed tables under trees and umbrellas, giving it two layers of cooling shade. Note, also, that though these tables are set up in a medium-sized square they take up a relatively small amount of space. The dense clustering creates a more defined eating area, and keeps the tables out of the way of pedestrians.

Just a few feet from the picture above, and at the same time of day, these tables offer an entirely different experience. The cafe serving these tables was open when I took this picture, but this spot was miserably hot and consequently empty.

A few hours later, however, the sun went behind a building and every single table almost immediately filled up. The lesson: tables need shade. This row of tables also spans the distance between two narrow, and therefore quiet, streets.

One of the most interesting things I saw in Spain was cafe seating right up against busy streets. This street was loud, wide, and really noisy. However, the restaurant put bushes up as a barrier between the seats and the street. The effect was a reduction in noise and an intimate space. Surprisingly, it worked. This idea offers an invaluable lesson for Provo’s restaurants on University Ave.

Perhaps the most charming little square I saw during my entire trip to Spain, this area of Barcelona’s medieval quarter had a little cafe in a shady corner. In addition to reemphasizing the need for shade, this example shows the economic benefits of a fantastic location: despite a small size and lack of advertising, this cafe charged relatively high prices.

This street is narrower than most sidewalks in downtown Provo but nevertheless houses a cafe. This example suggests that unassuming, even hidden, spots can be the best spots.
This picture also suggests that diners and pedestrians can share the same space. However, if the building on the left was replaced by a street, I doubt it would work as well; the two buildings provide a sense of security that would be lost with nearby traffic. Guru’s back alley seating is perhaps the most similar example I’ve experienced in Provo, though there is the potential for more of this kind of thing.

A cafe in Tangier, Morocco. Here, the cafe has partitioned off it’s space with planters. This picture also reveals the benefits of an irregular street grid; the pathway for people and vehicles is clearly defined, but due to the odd angles of the buildings a tiny square was created, offering a spot for eating.

Provo may not have medieval squares, narrow lanes, or a highly irregular street grid. But it does have intimate spaces and a lot of incredible restaurants. These examples offer possible solutions for turning those restaurants into even better outdoor cafes, which many of them clearly want to be. And despite any differences, the restaurants in the pictures above are dealing with noise, traffic, passersby, shared space and an array of other issues that apply to any city.



Filed under Food, travel

2 responses to “Lessons From Spanish Cafes

  1. Another thing you may/may not have seen is that some cafes (at least in Madrid) have a misting system under the awnings on their terraces. There are different jets that mist and spray people getting their coffee/eating outside to keep people cool during the unbearable hot summers. I had never seen that before and thought it was cool!

  2. Pingback: What Houses in the Streets Might Look Like | (pro(vo)cation)

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