A waitress wearing a face mask and face shield holds a food tray with a meal, while two diners face each other through a glass divider in the background. (Shutterstock)
(JERSEY CITY, N.J.) – On a sunny Saturday afternoon, life can be seen returning to Grove Street, a popular enclave of restaurants and bars in Jersey City. As of early September, the state of New Jersey has allowed restaurants to resume indoor dining service at 25% capacity beginning Labor Day weekend. It is the first time restaurants have welcomed patrons, outside of speedy pick-ups and deliveries, since a shutdown was enacted in March to curb the spread of COVID-19.
Venues on Grove have converted their indoor spaces to accommodate social distancing guidelines and make everyone feel as safe and comfortable as possible. A block filled with numerous restaurants is open outdoors after being closed in the initial shutdown, allowing pockets of people and their covered faces to enjoy a meal outside their confined spaces.
Grove has come alive with the infectious laughter and lively chatter of bars and eateries, which had been absent for months. Previously, restaurants had opened their outdoor dining in the summer to help ease their economic burdens and stay in accordance with new public health guidelines.
The careful bustle on Grove Street is a semblance of what everyday life in Jersey City looked like before the pandemic—before residents were confined to tiny apartments, eagerly awaiting the day they could resume their daily routines. Prior to the pandemic, the street would be filled with people inside any restaurant on a summer weekend. The popular shopping restaurant area, just steps away from the PATH train to Manhattan, is usually filled with people at any of the nearby small shops that varied from cafes to convenience stores.
At a restaurant like The Boil, waiters take orders from eager patrons, smiling behind their masks to greet customers. The sounds of people and traffic could fool someone into thinking that real life had almost turned back to normal. But, inside the restaurant, the tables are spread out to form large booths that create private spaces for each party, with bussers constantly sanitizing the surfaces.
The area was adapting and finding familiarity in a confusing and trying time. With the number of cases rising throughout New Jersey as the governor warns of a second wave of the virus coming, there is no telling how many of these establishments will be able to make it through the winter if they return to keeping their doors closed. The dining experience may never go back to what locals may remember, but establishments have learned to acclimate to these new circumstances.