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Greetings from the picnic table. Summer has finally settled in and, as my friend Deb succinctly put it when we met at Union Squared a few weeks back, “I’m eating outside as much as I can this summer. And drinking rosé!” Like Deb, I lean toward the mosquito-free beer garden, ivy-draped patio, or sunny rooftop aerie.
Since we have all this and more now in E-town, I’ve scouted the options for your end-of-summer enjoyment. Caveat: These picks are skewed toward the cocktail side of the equation. Other than that, my only selection criteria were that they offer maximum fun, atmosphere, and intimacy – no sidewalk or cars. So let’s raise a glass to the al fresco season, and the hope that the new Fountain Square Plaza redo will offer plenty of outdoor options to discover next summer.
From there to here and here to there, sippy things are everywhere. With rosé, brews, and lemonade, Dr. Seuss would surely agree the bright and spacious new patio hidden behind Union Squared offers something for kids of all ages. A couple of corn-hole games, a couple of fire pits, bright yellow chairs cozying up to umbrella-shaded picnic tables all made me a contented loafer. Detroit-style pizza pies, salads, and plenty of other treats from the Union Pizzeria mothership down the street round out the simpatico atmosphere. An A+ for the cute flower boxes on pine palisades that hide the parking lot and corral the kids.
If you’re just looking for corn hole and a cold one, try the no-frills Temperance Brewery Tap Room – hidden behind another parking lot – where the focus is on beer, beer, and more beer. Either BYOF (Bring Your Own Food), order in, or munch on the house popcorn. One faithful regular says she loves the communal tables and casual ambiance but was a bit surprised one evening when a burlesque show “suddenly appeared” while she was there with her teenage son … and a priest. Top family-friendly grades for outdoor eats, drinks, and vibe also go to the Peckish Pig with yummy fish and chips, the Old Neighborhood Grill, across the street from Hartigan’s ice cream, and Prairie Moon whose tiny enclosed patio feels miles away from the nearby el tracks.
I’m all about la vie en rose (or rosé) at The Barn’s intimate new terrace. Thanks to local lady Amy Morton and her team, it’s easy to forget you’re in the back parking lot across from Evanston First Liquors. Before me on the starched white tablecloth sat an Instagram-worthy glass of pale pink summer water; on the way were seasonal specialties, including Chef Nicole’s roasted vegetable Provençal and pan-seared calves’ liver. Chef Nicole travelled to France with her Chicago cheese-monger to gather ideas. Vive l’inspiration!
If you’re looking for less pricy and more hipster, head out the back door of Ward Eight to the newly redone patio and pretend you’re in Logan Square. It’s a clean space with an aluminum-meets-brick aesthetic and well-enclosed, too. There’s food – tasty small plates and charcuterie boards – but I go for the old-school cocktails and spot-on wines by the glass. You probably won’t see your elderly next door neighbor there, but you might run into an alderman. It’s nice to know this awesome local business was funded by our tax dollars, which went toward Ward Eight’s renovation and rehab. Owners Cody Modeer and Ann Carlson, who live upstairs, purchased the building from the City in 2016, giving new economic oomph – and two adorable kids – to our town’s southern border.
Friends and Colleagues
For over 20 years, Tommy Nevin’s Pub, with its homey vibe, has steadfastly catered to students and locals alike with a forest of taps and friendly faces behind the bar. When owner Ed Carrella opened the spacious, spiffy patio a few years back, we cheered. Seriously. A couple of screens above the outdoor bar equals the perfect place to root for the Cubbies in the summer if you, like me, are lacking in season tickets and/or well-connected friends. But go this summer because Ed has plans to sell the property to make way for a new high-rise. The new building would also mean the demise of Prairie Moon, next door. Both owners say they plan to open in new locations. In the meantime, those new condos will mean more patrons for other E-town patios like the one at Smylie Brothers Brewing Co., where the hard cider on tap offers a nice alternative for non-beer drinkers and the happy-hour specials draw colleagues from nearby Northwestern office buildings. Wine drinkers, on the other hand, should put their happy hour in the hands of star sommelier Alpana Singh, owner of Terra & Vine Restaurant and Wine Bar. T & V’s patio, hidden from prying glances by a well-designed gazebo-like structure, magically made me forget I was in downtown Evanston, next to Urban Outfitters and the Century 21 Movie Theaters. Or maybe it was the bottle of Sauvignon blanc chosen from Alpana’s incredible wine list…
Perhaps the coolest new addition to Evanston’s burgeoning al fresco dining and drinking scene is our town’s first rooftop bar, Five & Dime. It’s hard to believe this prime open-sky real estate, with a choice of picnic tables for groups, round tables for friends, and intimate seating areas for tête-à-têtes, is atop what was, for almost 50 years, the dusty old Tom Thumb hobby store (now home to Taco Diablo and Lulu’s downstairs). When I popped upstairs recently for a look around, I ran into my friend Katie, with her 24-year-old daughter, Abby, and Abby’s lovely friends, nibbling on the most delicious nachos (I snatched one) and drinking cocktails. The girls highly recommended the “Yes, Please”: a mélange of passionfruit, pome-granate, and Tito’s vodka. It was a still, warm evening, but the ladies, looking ahead, suggest adding “a plexiglass
windbreak wall and some heat lamps.
“Because in Evanston, we want to hang onto summer for as long as we can.”
Have a favorite secluded spot I didn’t mention? Please pipe up! Send comments and suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Union Squared: 1307 Chicago Ave.;
Temperance: 2000 W. Dempster St.;
Peckish Pig: 623 Howard St.;
Old Neighborhood Grill: 2902 Central St.;
Prairie Moon: 1502 Sherman Ave.;
The Barn: Rear 1016 Church St.;
Ward Eight: 629 Howard St.;
Smylie Brothers: 1615 Oak Ave.;
Terra & Vine: 1701 Maple Ave.;
Five & Dime: 1026 Davis St.;