Going al fresco: Suburban rooftops, patios offer premium outdoor dining experiences

As the weather continues to warm, outdoor patio season is heating up in the suburbs.

Following the onset of COVID, a premium has been continually placed upon warm, inviting outdoor spaces, with patios and rooftops offering a unique opportunity for fun and comfortable group gatherings.

In Rosemont, Saltwater Coastal Grill is a new addition to the bustling scene at the Parkway Bank Park Entertainment District, opening in the former Five Roses Irish Pub spot. Following a soft opening earlier this month, Saltwater officially opened on May 10, with a special grand opening event set for Tuesday, May 23.

“Rosemont has become a destination spot,” Saltwater's Event Sales Manager Cecily Vasquez said. “It's really great for people who live in, say, Oswego, Schaumburg or Hoffman Estates. They're close to the highway but maybe don't want to travel all of the way to the city to get this experience.

“They can come to us,” she said. “It's a beachy, coastal, cabana vibe with handcrafted cocktails that kind of pull you into that along with the raw bar, the seafood and the sushi. People have said, 'I do not feel like I'm in Rosemont.' It just completely transforms the experience into something different.”

The seafood tower at Saltwater Coastal Grill includes oysters, shrimp, crab legs and lobster. Courtesy of Iris MacKinnon

A Lyons Group Entertainment production, the new Rosemont location showcases a pair of inviting patio spaces. Featuring a raw and omakase bar, as well as sushi and a grilled fish option each day, Saltwater Coastal Grill seeks to provide patrons an immersive dining experience.

The patio doors at Saltwater Coastal Grill open all the way up, giving a very open feel to the new Rosemont restaurant. Courtesy of Saltwater Coastal Grill

“Our front patio seats 28,” Vasquez said. “From that patio, if you were to walk in, you'd get what we call our island creek room, right in front of our raw bar. You can kind of see into the whole restaurant and view that. Plus, if there's any entertainment happening on the greenery, you get front-row seats to that area as well,” she said, noting the Entertainment District events, which begin Sunday, May 28. “Our second patio is even larger. It can seat between 40 and 50 people. So we can kind of space people out. We've got greenery walls put up and string lights all across. The patio doors open to the rest of our restaurant, but you can still get that sort of tucked-away feeling.”

In Berwyn, building out a full patio space provided a lifeline for live music venue FitzGerald's. Current owner Will Duncan officially took over the space from longtime owner Bill Fitzgerald on March 5, 2020, about a week before the lockdown of the early pandemic would temporarily shutter the longtime venue. Eerily enough, the last indoor show took place on Friday the 13th in March 2020. By converting a former parking lot space into a patio, the venue was hosting outdoor shows by June, with a new stage, full bar and plenty of shaded seating.

Enjoy a beer, food and live music on FitzGerald's patio in Berwyn. Courtesy of Jess King

Three years later, FitzGerald's continues to host live music on its patio, conjuring up images of New Orleans via a wide variety of music offerings, which skew anywhere from Americana and zydeco to blues and bluegrass. Outdoor patio shows take place Tuesdays through Sundays and are generally free to attend with an online reservation. The patio also will host portions of the 40th installment of FitzGerald's American Music Festival June 30 through July 3.

Babygold Barbecue sits on-site at the FitzGerald's campus, and patio goers can have treats like smoked shrimp, brisket or burgers delivered directly to their seat, washing it down with beer collaborations from nearby Kinslahger Brewing.

Skeleton Key Brewing opened in Woodridge in 2016. Gutted by a tornado in the summer of 2021, the brewery's taproom finally reopened last spring. Continuing to move forward, the brewery celebrates the one-year anniversary of the taproom reopen with the grand opening of its patio on Saturday, May 20, just in time for the onset of Illinois Craft Beer Week, which kicks off throughout the suburbs the day before.

Skeleton Key Brewery in Woodridge hosts a grand opening of its patio on Saturday, May 20. Courtesy of Jim Ryan

“We never expected to have a patio, or be able to have a patio. But it was during COVID when we were forced to take our operation outside,” owner Emily Slayton said. “And the village of Woodridge allowed us to have a patio. They were like, 'Just do it. Just get business going again.' Once we did, we sort of got in a groove with it and really liked having that outdoor space for people.

“I think one of the things that's really nice about it is the seating that we put out there. It sounds like such a minor thing, but it can make a patio experience that much better. We have a bunch of couches out there, so it's a little more comfortable and geared toward small groups and being able to gather. We've also got tables and chairs and it's family-friendly.”

In addition to beer, the brewery taproom also features wine, cider, seltzer and nonalcoholic options, with cocktails forthcoming. Skeleton Key has hosted live music outside, and the brewery also celebrates bad movies, once boasting a “Trashy Movie Tuesday” series.

Skeleton Key Brewery's family-friendly patio offers comfy couches and table seating. Courtesy of Skeleton Key Brewery

While they don't feature a kitchen, a newly built food service area allows Skeleton Key to host food pop-ups from local restaurants and caterers, with options available most Fridays and Saturdays.

Looking ahead to their outdoor summer “Skelebration” on Aug. 5, the patio marks a new chapter for the brewery.

“To me, it means a return to normalcy in a way,” Slayton said. “We're finally starting to feel like we're on steadier ground than we have been for the last few years. Things were going great right up until the pandemic - and then it was pivot, pivot, pivot. And you just feel kind of wrung out. I'm just looking forward to actually enjoying my business again.”

In nearby Naperville, Santo Cielo touts one of the most unique rooftop settings in the suburbs, a fifth-floor space offering stunning views of downtown Naperville.

Massive window panels at Naperville's Santo Cielo open during the summer to allow a breeze throughout the space. Courtesy of Santo Cielo

Massive window panels open during the summer to accommodate a breeze throughout the space, which is open year-round. Small plates, pizza and pasta options and entrees like steak frites pair with a seasonal cocktail menu, coffee and more, offering a pleasant sit-down experience at a table or at the bar.

In north suburban Skokie, The Hampton Social drills down on the idea of the coastal getaway, expanding a successful brand within the confines of Old Orchard.

The new rooftop at The Hampton Social in Skokie allows patrons to feel worlds away from the Old Orchard mall below. Courtesy of The Hampton Social

“I grew up in Deerfield. So I know the northern suburbs,” said owner Brad Parker of Parker Hospitality. “Old Orchard has always been one of the staple outlets in the northern Chicagoland area. The outdoor atmosphere, everything about it just felt right. So we opened there now about three or four years ago and it's been fantastic. We're excited to get to open our rooftop,” he said.

“In the suburbs you get a lot of outdoor patios, right? We just wanted to go out and provide that outdoor dining experience and something for the mall. And what's great about it is that, when you dine on the rooftop, you don't feel like you're in the mall. Because it kind of detaches you from the mall experience. Maybe picture the Atlantic Ocean sitting just outside the doorstep of the Hamptons.”

The Hampton Social started as a downtown Chicago dining experience, a concept that thrived in a crowded marketplace, with the Skokie spot joining suburban locations in Burr Ridge and South Barrington, as well as offshoots in Nashville and Florida.

“That's what the Hamptons are all about - getting away for the weekend, from the hustle and bustle of the city and enjoying time with your friends,” Parker said. “When you go up there, it's about comfort food - barbecue, backyard grills, lobster rolls. And we just tried to mimic that as well as we can.

The new rooftop at The Hampton Social in Skokie offers a covered area if the sun gets a little warm. Courtesy of The Hampton Social

“The Skokie rooftop will be our first self-service experience - self-ordering at the table,” Parker explained. “You'll sit down, scan a QR code, place an order through your phone and it will be brought out to you. Of course, you can nestle up to the bar and get service like that. And we'll still have servers - experienced people that will be there to assist and guide you. But it won't be your typical server relationship,” Parker said. “So, I think that's going to be kind of neat and cool for people in the suburbs who maybe haven't experienced that.”

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