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Bristol Councilors Mull Allowing Restaurants to Serve Drinks Outdoors

A Bristol ordinance allows food to be served at tables on public sidewalks, but not alcoholic beverages; two restaurant owners want to change the law.

Sidewalk outside of Leo's Ristorante. Credit: W.Rupp
Sidewalk outside of Leo's Ristorante. Credit: W.Rupp

The serving of alcoholic drinks to patrons sitting at tables on sidewalks outside Bristol restaurants is being considered by the Town Council. A town ordinance allows only food to be served outside right now.

The issue was brought to the town councilors on Wednesday night, Dec. 4, by the owners of two Hope Street restaurants: Leo’s Ristorante, which already serves meals on tables set up outside the restaurant, and Roberto’s restaurant.

Paul Mancieri of Leo’s and Robert Vanderhoof of Roberto’s want their liquor licenses to be expanded to the sidewalks. They cited Providence, Newport and Westerly as municipalities that allow drinks to be served on public sidewalks.

“We want the same consideration as those towns,” said Mancieri.

All of the councilors seemed to like the idea of expanding drink service outdoors. But they weren’t ready to commit to the idea without first assessing the impact on Bristol of changing an ordinance that would apply to all restaurants.

“If it was just you two, there would be no problem," ,” said Councilor Nathan Calouro. “But we need to consider the bigger picture.” 

Councilor Timothy Sweeney said: “Outside dining brings an enhancement to the town. You are special. You do have the extra space.” 

Sweeney was referring to the wide public sidewalks in front of those restaurants. Another town ordinance mandates that at least 9 feet of space must be allowed for pedestrians. Leo’s and Roberto’s have more than enough space to serve outside. 

“How many restaurants fit that criteria?” asked Town Council Chair Mary Parella. “We need to be careful when we open that box.”

She asked the police department to come up with the number of eateries that might have sufficient space to serve outside on sidewalks and to determine if the towns that already allow alcohol to be served on sidewalks have had any issues. She said Westerly might be the place to start given that is similar to Bristol.

Mancieri and Vanderhoof said they would be willing to take on the liability for possible injuries or issues outside the restaurants. Each owner said they are looking to serve outdoors only a couple of months of the year when the weather is warmer.

“It would bring more people into town,” said Vanderhoof. “It would make the town look more inviting.”

The issue was continued to the Jan. 8 meeting so that at least one public hearing could be set up to get feedback from citizens and other businesses. A motion to set up a public hearing was approved unanimously.

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