Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXV, No. 29
Wednesday, July 20, 2011
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Planning Board Approves Winberie’s Outdoor Dining

Anne Levin

Come next spring, the plaza that fronts 1 Palmer Square will be Princeton’s latest location for al fresco dining. Having obtained approval from the Regional Planning Board at its meeting last Thursday, Palmer Square Management and Winberie’s restaurant are ready to turn this under-utilized stretch of concrete into a busy destination for dining and people-watching.

After questioning Palmer Square Management vice-president David Newton, project architect Jeremiah Ford III, and Winberie’s longtime general manager David Maskello, the Board voted unanimously to approve the Minor Site Plan with variances for signage and outdoor dining. The 20-foot-by-20-foot area between the entrance to J. Crew and the news kiosk will be enclosed with a black aluminum fence and seat approximately 36 diners.

The two stairways on the plaza will be substantially reduced in size. Central to the project is a sign for the eatery, designed by Mr. Ford and inspired by the Art Nouveau style of the Paris Metro subway system entrances.

Winberie’s will join the Alchemist & Barrister, Mediterra, Witherspoon Grill, and Panera Bread, among other Princeton restaurants, in providing spaces for patrons to dine outside. “It has been our goal for years to improve this plaza,” Mr. Newton told the Board. “It has always had a little bit of an appearance problem and a lack of activity. Our idea was always to create outdoor dining.”

It was a water main leak detected two years ago that prompted Palmer Square Management and Winberie’s to undertake the project. Since the leak necessitated improvements to the plaza, it was decided to forge ahead with plans that had been under consideration for some time. The water main has been patched, but will be replaced during construction for Winberie’s outdoor seating area.

“We’ve been working on this for a while,” said Mr. Ford on Friday. “The first job we did for Palmer Square was to expand the kiosk around 2004. I’ve been playing around with how to improve the square since then.”

Mr. Ford told the Board that the size of the two staircases on the plaza, and the way they hit the sidewalk, has always presented a problem. The reduction and redesign of the stairs furthest from the building will allow for separation between the restaurant and the kiosk. The quality, color, and slope of the brick on the building will be continued in the dining area. The large Bradford Pear tree on the plaza will be integrated into the design to provide a canopy of shade.

The design for the outdoor eatery’s sign is still evolving, but Mr. Ford said the finished product will closely resemble the one he provided for the Board’s examination. When Board member Audrey Chen commented that though she loved the design, she was disturbed by the fact that its curvilinear style was discordant with the style of buildings and signs already on the square, Mr. Ford replied, “It was my intention to be discordant with the rectilinear style on the square.

Mr. Ford has studied the history of Palmer Square, which was built in 1937 by Edgar Palmer and inspired, he said, by the design of Manhattan’s Rockefeller Center in the way it turns pedestrians in from the straight line of the street. But while Rockefeller Center was built on the same elevation as New York’s Fifth Avenue, Palmer Square slopes down from Nassau Street.

“Rockefeller had a level playing field, but this plaza is elevated from the rest of the square by about five feet,” said Mr. Ford. “So that provides a great outlook for dining and people-watching. The best seats will be right on the edge, where you can watch people coming and going on Palmer Square.”

Mr. Maskello told Board members that a portable bar will be used to sell drinks to patrons in the outdoor dining area. It will have a limited menu and limited drink menu. Patrons seated at the bar inside the restaurant will not be able to bring their unfinished beverages outside, but will be given time to finish their drinks before being seated.

“The bar will be stocked and that’s what the people will get,” Mr. Maskello said. “Liquor won’t be run up and down the stairs or elevators. And there will always be two people stationed at this bar, at all times.”

The outdoor eatery will be operated until 11 p.m. Mondays to Thursdays, until midnight Fridays and Saturdays, and until 10 p.m. Sundays. Based on a parking study done of Palmer Square in 2008, it was determined that there is adequate parking to accommodate the new section of the restaurant, Mr. Newton said.

Mr. Ford said the design for the Art-Nouveau-style sign is still in development, but that the finished product will not differ much from the black-and-gold design he submitted to the Board. The sign will be in the northeast corner of the plaza. On the inside, it will be visually diminished by plantings. “Art Nouveau is such a wonderful style, with its sense of nature and things growing,” he said. “It gets away from the stuffy Beaux Arts and Gothic style. It is meant to be fun, and so is a restaurant.”

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