We won't mince words: Last winter was a frozen hellscape like nothing we'd ever experienced before. So when the first hints of spring appeared — the warm sun between cool breezes, the first flecks of verdure — we knew we'd once again be skin-baring, sun-basking inhabitants of the great outdoors, the kind of folks who relish every opportunity to drink and dine al fresco. Here is a list of some of our favorite places to do just that.
Enchanting is really the only way to describe the slightly sunken, mossy, fountain-focused patio, located behind W.A. Frost, easily the most fancy-lady-approved spot on our list. The cushioned patio furniture and plentiful heat lamps make it a comfortable and cozy choice for picky guests, like your perpetually cold mother. Pacific Coast oysters and a nice dry rosé would be the proper things to order for light, pre-dinner schmoozing, but Frost also makes some less "pinkies up" items that are well worth checking out. We love the slightly gamey lamb burger and the achiote-heavy pulled pork sandwich.
The Lyn-Lake neighborhood is full of sidewalk seating and parking-lot patios, but drinkers mostly flock to this area to get high — as in the top tier of the building. Along with Uptown Cafeteria's cheery and colorful Sky Bar (slated to stay open while Tim McKee overhauls the rest of the restaurant), Lyn-Lake's favorite rooftop spot is undoubtedly Moto-i. Why? It's hip, but tends to draw a slightly less rowdy crowd than say, Stella's on a Saturday. Plus the food is several notches above the average bar fare: chewy, pillowy steamed buns stuffed with various meats and pickled things always hit the spot; Japanese-style crispy fried chicken is only improved by a dip into miso bearnaise; and the five-spice sugar donuts rival Chef Shack's. The primo view and late-night drink specials, including house-brewed sake, make Moto-i an easy pick for a tough-to-please group.
Sea Salt Eatery
Once the falls have unfrozen at Minnehaha Park, it's a sure sign that fish tacos will soon be frying at Sea Salt. There's some contingency seating under the pavilion, but this entire restaurant is essentially one big patio, with umbrella-topped rounds scattered on the front and sides of the building, as well as the multi-level seating area near the park's outdoor stage. Take your po'boy, crema and cotija-slathered elote, and perfect crab cakes to any old spot on the grass or try your luck securing one of the tables. Be sure to get a nice crisp glass of white when the lines are long, as you'll want something to ease your wait time before food arrives.
This Irish pub can get a little crazy and thus should be avoided during the following events: the annual St. Patrick's Day Parade, Winter Carnival, and for some reason, a Toby Keith concert. But at really any other time, the Liffey's rooftop bar is a stunner, offering great views of West Seventh, a long happy hour (daily from 2 to 6 p.m.), and rather excellent corned beef. Like any good Irish bar, the Liffey's whiskey selection is extensive, but in the summer months we like to keep it light with a bubbly Big Ginger — 2 Gingers whiskey and ginger ale — or a cider on ice.
Black Forest Inn
If you're looking for somewhere romantic to dine with your date al fresco or just want to change up the scenery on your usual post-work beer with colleagues, you may not immediately think of this Teutonic Eat Street gem. But the intimate pergola-perimetered patio at Black Forest Inn, with its checkered tablecloths, climbing greenery, and extensive European beer list, is both impressive and ridiculously charming. Come for a pretzel and a pint or share some schnitzel and sausage with your schatz under the twinkle lights. Black Forest's kill-the-keg events and annual Spargelfest, a fete entirely devoted to asparagus, are good introductions.
Psycho Suzi's Motor Lounge
There's really nowhere cooler than Psycho Suzi's for drinking along the banks of the Mississippi, particularly if you're a fan of rum. Noted for its flaming, high-octane tiki drinks, Suzi's patio is roomy and well-suited to big, sprawling groups, as groups so often are after a few flaming tiki drinks. The scene is usually a classic Northeast mix: dudes who biked there straight from band practice, pedal pub bachelorette crews, the stylist who talked you into an asymmetrical cut at Hair Police, and four middle-aged guys who still haven't realized this place is no longer Gabby's. The pizza has a committed following, but we never leave here without getting the perfectly greasy cheese curds.
Swede Hollow Cafe
Of all the patios on our list, this one might be the most Secret Garden-esque. The flowing stone fountain and ivy-covered surfaces make this backyard space feel like your own little retreat, but the view of Swede Hollow Park reminds you there's lots out there to explore. This long-running cafe is mostly a coffee and pastry spot, though they do have some items for light lunch and on Saturdays they serve an expanded breakfast menu featuring gorgeous Mediterranean quiche, potato cheddar pie, and fresh fruit cobbler. Bring your biggest book of crossword puzzles, turn off your cell phone, and settle in for a lazy afternoon of you versus a block of bread pudding.
The Happy Gnome
The tall privacy fence surrounding the Happy Gnome's patio allows you to forget that you're on a busy street and within spitting distance of several other bars. Maybe that last part is intentional, but if you're in the Selby-Dale area and want to hang out outside, we'd agree that this is the place to do it. This popular gastropub is always humming, and though it does offer a full bar of booze, this spot seems to have a special draw for fans of uncommon brews. The beer list runs the gamut from Rodenbach's sour beers to super hoppy suds and things you won't find at any old beer bar, such as a tea-infused wheat ale. Take note: They stoke the stone fireplace on colder nights and serve the full food menu on the patio until 11:30 p.m. every day.
Most of the bars and eateries on St. Anthony Main have a deck or sidewalk seating of some sort, but the more formally set-apart courtyard area at Aster Cafe is the best all-around space for everything from a first date to a quick mid-walk refreshment to dinner with the in-laws, or late drinks and live music with friends. Steal a spot in the shade for a late brunch of malted waffles with peaches and pecans or sip an Earl Grey-infused whiskey with ginger beer under the soft light of a hanging lantern. In any and all scenarios, you're promised riverfront and skyline views and the opportunity to see at least two couples taking engagement or wedding photos. Bonus: This is a dog-friendly space, so feel free to keep your furry friend with you while you dine.
Butcher & the Boar
Although Butcher & the Boar's now well-developed beer garden is one of the only venues of its kind to stay open year-round, it's always particularly hopping in the summer. The tented area has an indoor/outdoor feel and it seems like they're hosting something fun and raucous almost every weekend, whether it's a mini music-fest or the release of a new brew. There's also always plenty of house-made sausage to be had here. The venison patty melt with white cheddar is a no-brainer and the German nachos — steak fries smothered in kraut, bratwurst bits, and butterkäse cheese — are a gluttonous good time.
Smack Shack and Darby's may have the bigger patios in the North Loop area, but we like the slightly more tucked-away feel of the fenced-in outdoor dining area at Clubhouse Jaeger. It's less crazy on Twins home game days than the aforementioned spots, has a quick-service outdoor side bar for drinks, and you can bet on a pretty decent soundtrack coming from the speakers. Split a basket of bacon (yes, with spicy mayo and maple syrup for dipping) with your drinking buddies or enjoy black bean tacos with crunchy radishes, cabbage, and salty queso fresco.