How important are connections between inside and out?
Panino’s, a place my wife and I enjoy eating at fairly often, recently expanded into the space next door. The original space was kind of a quirky collection of areas but it worked and felt comfortable. Unfortunately the new space is a giant windowless sterile echo chamber with quite awful lighting. A few days after it opened, I was sitting at a table near the new section when a couple came out and commented to each other that it felt like a dungeon. Sadly, an apt description.
The Salt Cellar in Cathedral Hill closed in August. Not quite surviving for a second birthday. Its demise has largely been attributed to being too expensive for the quality of food and service. For many of us there was another bit though: we didn’t like being in there. What was interesting is that we kind of liked the ambiance. But we didn’t want to go back. We felt isolated from the street and the world beyond. Yes, another dungeon.
The Lexington on Grand Avenue was similar, except that the food and cost seemed more aligned. It had OK decor, but no connection to the street and world around us. We liked the food, but not the isolation, so never ate there.
Windows and Doors and Connections oh my
Go into Axel’s or Dixie’s when they’re not full, and you’ll see nearly everyone sitting near the windows. The most coveted offices are those with windows — the more the better. Who wants to be in an office with no windows? Why would you want to be in a restaurant with no windows? Even sitting in the back of Emmett’s Pub (next to Dixie’s) works because of its large windows.
This isn’t just about sunlight or fresh air. We’re social beings. We like to be connected to the world and the people around us. We don’t like to be or feel isolated. Even just seeing other people and knowing that they’re there is comforting. Hearing the world because a door or window is open is that much better.
Windows provide sunlight, moonlight and more importantly, this critical social connection. Even better, windows or doors that open provide fresh air, allow us to hear the rest of the world, and reduce the unappealing hollow echo of some rooms, making them feel more natural and comfortable.
This also benefits servers who have customers outside and improves service, as it makes it easier to see outside and if there are doors, makes it easier to get there.
Some places with great connections:
There are tons of other places with great connections like La Grolla, Burger Moe’s, Meritage, and many many more. Windows and doors need not be huge if the interior space isn’t.
Two Way Street
This goes two ways. A connection to the street is not only a benefit to those inside, but also makes the sidewalk and street much more welcoming as we saw above. As you walk along the sidewalk, you see people in the places next to you and often hear them. This is comforting as well.
Lack of windows has the opposite affect.
Imagine if Panino’s put in some French doors across the entire new space (where the bar/server’s station and a couple of booths are). How much more wonderful would it be inside and out? What if Fitzgerald’s did the same? Or maybe just a bunch of windows like Wild Onion has? There are rumors of a rebirth of The Lexington thanks to Josh Thoma, Kevin Fitzgerald and Jack Riebel. What if they added some windows to that barren place?