Where to Dine and Drink Al Fresco
Feels like warm weather is finally here to stay (through the summer at least). Per usual, Chicagoans are ravenous for outdoor dining, and with so many restaurants offering al fresco options, it takes a special place to stand out. From zen patios to neighborhood terraces, here are a few new options to savor this season.
Sumi Robata Bar is red hot for its killer robata grill dishes and the pristine cocktails from subterranean Charcoal Bar, so mosey outside to their zen patio to cool off. The acclaimed robata restaurant is doing al fresco in style with a soothing urban oasis as relaxing as therapy. The patio is a serious operation, constructed to a tee like a restaurant in and of itself. As guests enter into the serene setting, they're surrounded by Japanese siding known as "kura," meant to resemble a storefront, and a wall of evergreens. The space is intimate and calm, like a giant hammock hanging in a Japanese jungle, with seating for 20. The wooden deck features a number of two-tops as well as a posh lounge area festooned with drapes. As the name implies, the zen patio houses a Japanese zen garden, tended to by chef Gene Kato.
On the other end of the spectrum and the other side of the city, humble neighborhood gem Gather has a cozy outdoor nook all its own. The covered outdoor terrace contains seating for 40 and is set to remain open for nine months out of the year, great for diners who like to fool themselves into thinking they live someplace tropical. The al fresco space feels like an urban Secret Garden, bedecked by a large mural designed by a local artist, granite tables, benches, and mod chairs. Dining on this transportive terrace, especially after the sun sets, one almost expects to hear crickets chirp and fireflies illuminate. It does a city-dweller's body good.
Doc B's Fresh Kitchen takes a genius approach to the al fresco experience. The Gold Coast nook features a massive 20-foot long airplane hanger-style window in front, which can retract instantly to bring a bit of the outdoors inward. This is helped along by the addition of suspended greenery strewn across the ceiling. Once warm weather is consistent, the restaurant will also launch its sidewalk patio on Walton.
What Big Star is to Wicker Park (they've got a killer and sceney patio, by the way), Elle on the River is to River North. Except Elle is entirely seasonal and only operates during the warmer months. The casual sister spot to Travelle in The Langham, Chicago, Elle focuses on Mediterranean-inspired tacos and punch cocktails, all on an enormous concrete patio in front of the hotel overlooking the river. It's a transportive and illustrious experience for any downtown denizen or worker on their lunch break.
One of the coolest and most unique patios in town can be found at Mott St. As if the restaurant wasn't happening and bustling enough inside, the energy pours outward onto the restaurant's 68-seat beer garden. The setting feels like a tropical Asian oasis, complete with communal tables, shaved ice cocktails, and vivifying plates from chef Edward Kim. The patio opens with a bang for the season on May 1, which will feature a DJ and drink specials.
Smack dab at the nexus of Old Town and Lincoln Park, Perennial Virant is conveniently poised to provide some of the best al fresco views in Chicago. Open now for the season, the patio in front of the Hotel Lincoln overlooks Lincoln Park proper, directly across from Green City Market. There's space for 70 on the large patio, presided over by acclaimed chef Paul Virant.
The alleyway off Green Street in the West Loop may best be known for RM Champagne Salon and its Parisian-inspired cobblestone patio. But the barbecue restaurant that shares the alleyway entrance offers a raucous and summery al fresco alternative that's just as fun. Green Street Smoked Meats unveils its massive patio on warmer days, lending the feel of a barnyard cookout party filled with picnic tables, pulled meats, and booze.
- Matt Kirouac