Alfresco the Way to Go in Annapolis

November 22, 1994

Whether or not some residents want to acknowledge it, Annapolis was a tourist destination and hospitality center long before the first bricks were laid on Main Street.

In 1744, a group of Virginia businessmen reported that they were met at the City Dock and "conducted to the first tavern," where they were "welcomed with a bowl of punch and a glass of wine."

The capital city now is talking about extending its welcome mat to the sidewalks and allowing restaurant owners to set up outdoor tables.

Some Annapolitans are strongly opposed to this idea. They fear outdoor dining will burden downtown residents with more noise and trash. Historic preservationists are against the idea, saying sidewalk cafes would detract from the character of the state capital.

One sidewalk-dining foe snickered at the proposal: "Sea gulls poopin' on peoples' heads, all for one or two tables where people can eat."

We think the opponents are over-reacting. Outdoor cafes on Main Street would give residents and visitors another reason to look beyond the suburban malls and venture into historic Annapolis. The cafes also would help make those in the city feel safer and add vitality by providing places where people could meet and socialize.

Noise and trash should not be a problem. The sidewalk cafes would be subject to existing noise and litter ordinances, and the city could take extra precautions by restricting their late-evening operating hours so as not to disturb the slumber of those who live nearby.

The historic preservationists' argument doesn't hold, either. While we can be sure those colonial Virginia businessmen did not quench their thirst sitting at a table on the sidewalk, the Annapolis landscape is quite different from what it was in the early 18th century. Downtown sidewalks today have all kinds of modern features: brick paving, parking meters, manhole covers, even pansies planted in wooden barrels.

We should be grateful that Main Street has changed from a century ago when pedestrians tripped over cows sleeping on the sidewalks at night, and the air was permeated with the odor of horse manure and oyster shells.

And as for the concern that outdoor dining would be disrupted by reckless sea gulls, any Main Street diner worried about that could always eat inside. Or wear a hat.

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