Outdoor dining in this weather? Heated bar and restaurant patios make it possible
If you didn't get your fill of outdoor dining and drinking during summer, you don't need to wait for the weather to warm up. Some local spots have gotten creative using fireplaces, heaters and glass enclosures to extend their patio season into fall -- and even winter.
Casa Bonita Mexican Restaurant and Tequila Bar in Libertyville recently installed standing heaters between all of the tables on its patio, further increasing the warmth provided by hanging heaters that were put up last year. Add in a glass windbreaker and, even if it's 25 degrees outside, the restaurant can keep the patio a balmy 80 degrees -- warm enough for you to feel good about sipping a margarita in December.
"It makes it very comfortable sitting there," said co-owner Pat Patterson. "We fill the patios year round. In wintertime, you can see the snow falling and you can still be warm."
Patterson said he got the idea because of how popular the restaurant's patio was in the summer. The space seats 65 to 75 people and regularly fills up on weekends throughout the year. Outdoor dining on New Year's Eve has proved especially popular.
"We wanted to carry on a little bit longer, so we tried the hanging heaters," he said. "It's just nice to still get the outdoor feeling during the winter rather than being closed in."
The Office in St. Charles enclosed its popular patio in glass during March and April for St. Patrick's Day celebrations. "It was so well-received by our customers we decided to do it all winter this year," said owner Sean Williams. "You can sit out there and watch the snow fall."
Heated by furnaces, the space feels like a greenhouse, complete with blooming flowers and palm trees. It's proving a popular destination for holiday parties, rehearsal dinners and other events, though you can also just come to try their winter menu filled with hearty fare like beef stew and seasonal cocktails including caramel apple martinis.
Pinstripes in South Barrington has an enclosed bocce area and players there often spend time between turns hanging out around the patio fire pit. When it's especially cold, you can bundle up under a blanket and order a Ghirardelli hot chocolate or Intelligentsia coffee made just for Pinstripes.
"When we have the fire pit raging, it creates a nice sound and smell, so it's very inviting," said service manager Rachel Huebner. "It's an open mingling area for our guests."
The space fits 30 to 40 people around a mix of small and larger tables, and Pinstripes often makes the outdoor area even more appealing by offering up "sparks," samples of specialty cocktails, or their s'mores dessert, which incorporates house-made marshmallows, graham crackers, fresh cut strawberries and a side of hot fudge.
"We want them to feel like they're at home and can relax and take it easy with friends, family or a first date," Huebner said.
The large patio at Bakersfield in Westmont is topped with heavy-duty umbrellas with heaters embedded in them. A fireplace proves especially popular as a place for diners to pull up a chair and have dessert while a fire pit on the other side of the space provides a gathering spot for groups waiting on the rest of their party.
"If the weather is reasonable (the patio's) always our most popular seating option," said beverage director Sam McDaniel. "We have some folks who are dedicated to it no matter what. We expect to have people who want to sit out there through Christmas. Even when it's this cold, we have people who want to eat out there."