The mood along Hanover Street on Thursday almost crackled with excitement as the neighborhood, normally clogged at this time of year with tourists and fragrant with the scents of marinara and fresh-baked bread, began to awaken from the shutdown.
Although restaurants across Massachusetts began reopening Monday for outdoor dining under Phase 2 of the state’s reopening plan, Boston officials had put the brakes on North End eateries setting up temporary al fresco spots until Thursday, citing unique challenges for one of the city’s densest dining enclaves.
But by Thursday morning, the main drag was ready.
On much of Hanover Street, parking lanes were cleared, “cafe zone” signs warning cars would be towed were posted, and orange demarcation lines were spray-painted onto the street, showing where each establishment was allowed to set up. Many restaurants hauled out tables and chairs in front of their buildings — spaced six feet apart, per state regulations — and dressed up their new outdoor spaces with planters and umbrellas.
By afternoon, some eateries were welcoming their first diners, who seemed delighted to be munching on bread or sipping cold glasses of iced tea and lemonade.
“They should have done this years ago. Forget the pandemic,” said Gerard Kugel, a North End resident who was dining at Caffè Paradiso with his wife. “It’s good to be out. I feel safer with the outdoor seating. Aesthetically, it looks great.”
Boston has been rolling out an initiative to make it easier for eateries without patios to offer outside dining by expanding onto the sidewalk or the street, in an effort to cut back on the spread of COVID-19, make customers feel safer, and help businesses that face limits on indoor dining.
In Boston, 500 restaurants have applied for temporary outdoor dining approval. So far, about 200 — not including in the North End — have been approved, Mayor Martin J. Walsh said on Wednesday, and they can remain open until 10 p.m. on weekdays and 11 p.m. on weekends.
All restaurants must follow reopening regulations. Tables must be at least six feet apart and have a maximum of six people. Patrons must wear face coverings until they are seated, and workers must wear masks.
In the North End, more than 70 restaurants have been approved to temporarily expand onto the street or sidewalk, according to Walsh’s office. Patrons must be gone by 10:30 p.m. on weeknights, and by 11:30 p.m. on Sundays. Cars aren’t allowed to stop on Hanover Street between Cross and Tileston streets, or on Salem Street between Cross and Prince streets.
Many restaurant owners on Hanover and Salem streets lauded the city for acting quickly to get a plan in place and fast-track approvals for outdoor dining.
“I was a bit skeptical it was going to happen — just the way the North End is set up; it’s so residential,” said Richard Ansara, executive chef and owner of Tresca on Hanover Street. “And knowing Boston, I didn’t think it would get approved. But thankfully, it did.”
Jeff Nace, owner of Neptune Oyster on Salem Street, said the city has been in constant contact to keep him informed.
“I know it’s difficult on their side — they have to talk to a lot of interest groups,” he said.
On Wednesday, Walsh said the city had to move quickly so businesses could survive, but he wanted to be “upfront” with neighbors who had concerns.
“This is not a typical community process, but conversations are going to continue,” he said.
Nace said he knows that allowing North End restaurants to spill out into the streets for a more European-style dining experience has been “talked about over the years as a possibility,” but was never able to get off the ground.
“This has really forced their hand to make it happen,” he said.
On Hanover Street, Ansara said the ability to host customers at the nine tables he was able to fit outside was “a long time coming,” and eating under an open sky would bring an “Old World feel” to a street that specializes in European and Mediterranean cuisine.
“It’s going to be great for everybody,” he said.
Many on the street Thursday agreed.
“This whole street should be pedestrianized,” said Brett Arends, a longtime North End resident who was enjoying an iced beverage while reading at a table. “It should be like Italy, like Rome.”
The new setup comes with challenges.
Some business owners worry that losing the parking lanes will exacerbate an already tight traffic situation.
As a fire truck screamed by, Ansara said he worried about emergency vehicles being able to pass through if the street is clogged with traffic.
“With two lanes of traffic, how are people going to pull to the side?” said Ansara. “Normally, there might be some open spaces on the side of the road for cars to pull over. Now, with tables on the street, there’s nowhere for them to pull over.”
Last month, Walsh cited the fire station at 392 Hanover St. as he addressed calls to close down the street to cars.
“It sounds like a great idea and in theory would be wonderful, but we have a fire station in the middle of Hanover Street,” he said at the time.
Meanwhile, the density of restaurants on the street has each establishment trying to come up with ways to respect distancing and accommodate neighbors.
Modern Pastry co-owner Sara Picariello-McGee said the bakery had to get creative. The owners shifted tables toward an abutting bank branch to allow more space for its next-door neighbor, Caffè Paradiso, which has a smaller frontage, and Arya Trattoria, which is on the building’s second floor.
“We’re all neighbors. We’re all friends. We all want it to work,” she said.
However, not every North End restaurant is rushing to reopen. At the Daily Catch, Basil Freddura said Thursday that they’re still weighing options, trying to figure out a way forward for the 20-seat eatery.
“We only have a tiny portion of sidewalk here,” he said. “You have limits on what is executable while maintaining quality.”
The Daily Catch has been doing curbside pickup at its Brookline restaurant and is planning to open a new, larger location at 65 Atlantic Ave. But trying to determine what will work for the North End spot and how much demand there will be during an uncertain tourist season is not easy.
“My head is spinning,” Freddura said.
And while the restaurants await word on when they can reopen for indoor dining, the weather will also play a part in potential profits.
Ansara, eyeing the impending clouds on Thursday afternoon before a brief but heavy rainfall, said he was hoping to welcome his first outdoor diners that night — “but only if the weather cooperates.”
Hayley Kaufman and Craig F. Walker of the Globe staff contributed to this report.
Due to a reporter’s error, the first name of the owner of Neptune Oyster was incorrect in a previous version of this story.