by Anneli Rufus for East Bay Express on April 02, 2008
Table size is bistros’ dirty little — verylittle — secret. Google “bistro” together with “tiny tables,” and you’ll find reviewer after reviewer mentioning this feature in tones ranging from resigned to matter-of-fact, the way you might mention that skating rinks have ice. Almost no one seems to lament or complain about it — that’s the resignation — but surely no one likes it, this Alice-down-the-rabbit-hole dysmorphia in which you feel suddenly gigantic at the exact moment when you’re sitting down to consume calories. Bistro tables tend not only to be tiny but also too close together: too close, at least, for telling secrets. Reaching behind you for the coat or bag you’ve slung over your chair means nearly clouting strangers.
So let’s see: Cramped. Claustrophobic. Self-conscious. Aware of being eavesdropped on. Since all of this goes against human nature, against how we naturally have fun, you have to wonder not why it’s so standard but why we put up with it. It’s standard because every square foot counts in costly rental spaces. More tables, more turnover, more cash. And bistros tend to be in high-rent districts. (Meanwhile, most backwater dives afford enough room, as rubes used to say, in which to swing a cat.) In other words, the tiny upmarket bistro table is part of the capitalist machine and you are its oppressed victim.