“Your outdoor bar is only good if your guests are still talking about it at work the next day,” says Anthony Trester, assistant food and beverage director at Milwaukee’s Yard, where couches, fire pits, and even a brick pizza oven spread out across a hillside.
After all, the basic ingredients are simple—sun, cold drinks, and a dash of atmosphere. But the best outdoor bars rise to Trester’s challenge and make a lasting, inimitable impression. A fantastic view, creative cocktails, perks like Ping-Pong or contemporary art installations, and comfort food help our favorite outdoor bars edge out the competition.
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There’s a great outdoor bar to match your mood, from a dolled-up night on a Chicago rooftop to a lazy Texas afternoon kicking back with beers and live music on a patio. And if the crowd makes a difference, so, too, does a bar’s location and trappings. “Every place with a liquor license and a concrete slab tries to put an umbrella up and serve drinks; if you’re going to be outside, be somewhere cool and fun,” says Trester.
Somewhere like the Frying Pan. Plenty of bars lure you with water views, but this outdoor divey bar one-ups them with the novelty and fun of drinking on a boat while right in Manhattan—and not just any boat. This 1929 lightship sunk in the Chesapeake Bay before being salvaged and eventually docked on a railroad car barge on the Hudson River.
Other city-dwellers in need of a quick nature fix can turn to Forest Room 5 in Denver, where a brook babbles past the tree-shaded patio and a projector screens wildlife footage.
Even the rooftop bar Blue at the Ritz-Carlton Los Angeles doesn’t rely on its scene and sleek pool alone. There’s a 147-square-foot garden that cultivates herbs, fruits, and plants used in seasonal cocktails like Verbena Lemonade with Ketel One Citroen Vodka (kalamansi, lemongrass and verbena). “Having a drink outside is an escape,” says Klaus Puck, the beverage director, and the fresh cocktails only add to that refreshing feeling.