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Takin' it to the streets

Peter Torza thinks he has created elegance and tranquility inside his downtown restaurant, but on mild fall evenings, most of his customers are trying to get out.

Out to Torza's sidewalk tables, that is.

"Our outdoor seating is very popular now," said Torza, who owns Harlow's on J Street. "On Friday and Saturday nights when the weather is nice, there's more of a wait for an outside table than for one inside."

Sacramento's downtown area _ with its ample sidewalks, multitude of parks and canopy of old-growth city trees _ is host to an explosion of sidewalk delicatessens, restaurants, brewpubs and coffeehouses.

Prior to 1993, when the city adopted an ordinance for sidewalk businesses, eight businesses had sidewalk seating. Today, 26 businesses have a license for sidewalk dining and at least 15 businesses are operating on sidewalks illegally, said Lorie Souza, city planning technician.

"It's primarily happening downtown," Souza said. "The sidewalks are bigger and they're located near businesses."

The city was forced to adopt an ordinance enforcing guidelines for sidewalk eateries after a popular coffeehouse _ Java City, at Capitol and 18th avenues _ strung cafe tables and chairs along the sidewalks at the corner business.

The outdoor tables created a magnet for teens and older Beatniks alike, who sip gourmet coffee, nibble pastries and read the latest art magazine or novel.

Bryn Dekker, 15, comes to Java City every day to sit at one of the sidewalk tables.

"There's a group of about 10 of us that meet here, usually in the evenings," he said. "I come for a cafe latte. I used to sit alone, but now I've met all these people."

Veronica Rosenberg has a more practical reason for sitting outdoors.

"Because of this," she said, raising her lit cigarette.

Torza crammed five tables on the sidewalk next to his restaurant's front door in 1988. At that time, Harlow's was one of two businesses in that area that offered sidewalk dining.

He learned about sidewalk restaurants while traveling in Europe and Southeast Asia.

"Some of my greatest dinner experiences took place on the street," Torza said. "You have the smell of the market and the cooking food."

Anne Gonzales is an Elk Grove, Calif., freelance writer.