The staff started preparing early on Monday at Angelini's. It was an important day for the restaurant in downtown Keokuk. The sidewalk outside the Italian-themed eatery was power-washed and three metal tables were set up, with four chairs each. The tables were "walled" in by a series of plants, including herbs used in the kitchen.
The preparations were done in anticipation of the arrival of members of the Keokuk City Council, their spouses, and other city leaders. They were stopping by to have a meal outside on the sidewalk -- which is current prohibited in Keokuk.
John Mason, who owns Angelini's, has been working with the city, Main Street Keokuk, and nearby restaurants for a year-and-a-half to bring outdoor dining to downtown Keokuk.
“It’s really going to create a buzz for the downtown," said Mason. "(From) Java River, myself at Angelini’s, we have the new housing development coming up. It’s definitely going to show a different type of environment.”
Those in attendance Monday night enjoyed drinks, hors d'oeuvres, drinks, and either blackened chicken or eggplant parmesan. Mason said the response he received throughout the night was overwhelmingly positive.
“It was very exciting for me because I do a lot of traveling and I have seen it in a lot of cities where they have the al fresco dining," said Mason. "The ambiance was wonderful with the evening setting and the shade over the building tops."
The topic has come before the city council on numerous occasions in recent months, but has not moved forward because the proposal had to be in line with existing ordinances regarding outdoor alcohol consumption and sidewalk usage.
During the dinner, pedestrians walked by, some repeatedly, to show that the tables did not prevent use of the sidewalk.
Mason said he learned that day that people are quite interested in outdoor dining. He said several times people came up and tried to be seated for lunch outside. “We had eight people who we turned down," said Mason. " (They) wanted to stop in and eat. They were not regular customers, they were just passing through.”
Mason does not believe the traffic noise from Main Street will prevent people from sitting outside for a meal and a glass of wine. In fact, he said the biggest challenge for Angelini's will be to remove the tables and chairs when they are not needed at night.
The city council is expected to discuss the issue more this week. It's unclear when a vote to approve outdoor dining might be held.