Princeton is lucky in that at least 3 really great restaurants have opened here this year: North End Bistro (by the Whole Earth Center in Jugtown), Agricola (in the former Lahiere’s space at Witherspoon and Nassau) and Mistral, on the other side of Witherspoon from the Princeton Public Library.
Mistral, from the owners of the upscale Elements restaurant on Bayard Lane, offers fantastic food and is located in the heart of walkable downtown Princeton. But it has a couple of down sides. First, the space is tiny! Diners are tucked in right next to each other, and you should expect to say ‘Excuse Me!’ a few times if you have to get to the bathroom. The space is boosted by a small patio area around the back, but this begs the question: why doesn’t Mistral open a larger terrace area along the side of the restaurant, where it faces the street?
A dining area out front would be fantastic, adding to the space of this successful eatery. A major complaint of reviewers at Yelp is that they can’t get seated quickly enough. We should make it easy for tasty restaurants like Mistral to expand. More seating would also draw attention to the restaurant, helping it compete with the likes of Witherspoon Grill, which already has a seating area out front, right on Princeton’s delightful Hines Plaza. Outdoor seating would also make Princeton feel more people-oriented with public space used for dining and relaxing.
Unfortunately the space next to Mistral is currently a surface parking lot. That means that the benefit of the space accrues to a small number of drivers. Parking is a really low-value way to use this space. For the majority of people out and about in Princeton in the evening, it doesn’t improve their enjoyment. It doesn’t allow people to interact. It provides a very small amount of municipal revenue, and it’s an eyesore. We’re not even talking about a large number of spaces: the Grigg’s corner lot accommodates few cars compared to the much larger garages on Hulfish Street and Spring Street.
Let’s find a better use for the space. It’s not too much to expect people to tuck their cars away in one of our downtown garages. We also have huge amounts of on-street spaces within a couple of blocks. We should redevelop this surface parking lot as something more valuable, and by doing so hopefully increase the amount of space for people instead of cars.
Have you eaten at Mistral yet? Or any of Princeton’s other new restaurants? Would you like to see expanded seating at Mistral? How essential are the parking spaces at the Grigg’s Corner parking lot? Have your say in the comments below!