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Summer Al Fresco!

Patio dining in Milwaukee

Jun. 2, 2010
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In the last decade Milwaukee has seen a surge in the number of restaurants that offer outdoor patios, giving our city a vibrancy it hasn’t seen since the old German beer gardens of the late-19th century. Until Mayor John Norquist’s initiative to promote al fresco dining in Milwaukee,getting a permit for outdoor dining was far too challenging for most business owners.That, coupled with the health department’s concerns that food served outside was unsafe, meant that Milwaukee diners ate indoors. By 2000, regulations were changed and codes were tweaked, making it much easier to offer outside seating.

These days, to lure Milwaukeeans who want to take advantage of the brief warm-weather bliss, many local restaurants are going above-and-beyond setting out tables on the sidewalk. Here are a few of the locally owned restaurants that offer a proper patio, a defined outdoor space elevated or set apart where customers can eat and drink. We took note of features that provide comfort, convenience and pleasure (think spectacular views, comfy furniture and outdoor heaters), elevating these outdoor oases far above their brethren.

Alterra Humboldt

2999 N. Humboldt Blvd.



Beneath the rusted steel beams of a sawtooth pergola, people from all walks of life gather (often with dogs lying at their feet) in Alterra’s spacious courtyard, sandwiched between the coffee roaster’s café and Loop Yarn Shop. Among weatherworn wood, native plants and textured concrete, diners can enjoy Alterra’s wide selection of Fair Trade and organic coffees and teas, as well as a creative menu brimming with locally grown ingredients. There are plenty of bicycle racks for commuters, and, on some days, you can catch a heated game of cricket unfolding across the street at the Pumping Station Playfield.

Anaba Tea Room

2107 E. Capitol Drive



Visitors to Anaba Tea Room’s rooftop greenhouse and garden will feel elevated in both body and spirit. Located on the roof of a Shorewood building that houses a retail store called the Garden Room, the space offers a true escape from the commotion of the ground level. Customers can choose to sit either in the glass greenhouse or at one of the four outdoor tables overlooking Capitol Drive for a selection of delicate tea sandwiches, robust salads, homemade soups and a wide variety of teas.

Barnacle Bud’s

1955 S. Hilbert St.,



Tucked away in a secluded industrial area along the banks of the Kinnickinnic River in Bay View, Barnacle Bud’s has a gem of a patio that springs to life in the warmer months. The restaurant resembles a deep woods crab shack, girded with a large wooden deck and crowned by a tin roof. The menu—equal parts surf and turf—is served in plastic baskets on picnic tables shaded by colorful umbrellas. The casual atmosphere draws an unpretentious crowd, with many arriving by boat and tying up at the boat slips operated by Skipper Bud’s Marina.

Brocach Irish Pub and Restaurant

1850 N. Water St.



Brocach’s large rooftop lounge has the feel of a fortified Irish castle, complete with an ample supply of Irish food and dark stout to sate any visitors. Located on the roof of a 130-year-old Cream City brick building, the backside of the patio is built into a landscaped hill, while the front overlooks Water Street and, beyond that, the Milwaukee River. Long wooden pews, a number of metal bistro tables and a big picnic table mean favorable odds of finding a seat.

The Horny Goat Hideaway

2011 S. First St.



The folks at Horny Goat Hideaway have a long-term plan to transform the banks of the Kinnickinnic River in Bay View into a full-blown entertainment experience. They constructed a seawall on the waterway and added an expansive patio and dock made of ironwood, complete with 14 boat slips. The brewing company’s recent expansion also includes an outdoor covered bar with six large flat-screens, four bar stations and seating for 50. Four sand volleyball courts, a live music stage, gas-fed fire pits and a corn-holing green will have you working up a thirst for Horny Goat’s six craft beers.

La Fuente

625 S. Fifth St.



La Fuente adds to the thriving tradition of local Mexican restaurants that offer prime outdoor patios, one started by the old La Casita on Farwell Avenue. Located in the heart of the Latin Quarter, La Fuente’s patio embraces the architectural elements of a classic Spanish courtyard, complete with fountains and walls decorated with colorful tile. Speedy service and a well-placed outdoor bar mean that one of La Fuente’s fruity margaritas fuertes can be at your umbrella-topped table pronto.


5921 W. Vliet St.



Chef Jan Kelly couldn’t have picked a better place to operate a quaint, creative, moderately priced restaurant than in a revitalized section of Washington Heights, an ethnically diverse, laid-back neighborhood on the far west side of Milwaukee. When it’s warm, diners from both the city and the suburbs flock to the calm respite of Meritage’s secluded backyard deck, where they can indulge in Kelly’s well-rounded, compelling dinner menu and ample wine list under a canopy of delicate garden lights. Kelly’s contemporary American cuisine consistently demonstrates her talent for highlighting the best of what the seasons (and local food producers) have to offer.

Milwaukee Ale House

233 N. Water St.



Boating enthusiasts will tell you food just tastes better after a slow cocktail cruise on the river, which is exactly why the six boat slips outside the Milwaukee Ale House are such valuable commodities during the season. The Ale House takes advantage of its location on the popular RiverWalk, luring in thirsty boaters and passers-by with six, sometimes more, freshly crafted beers and a menu full of group-friendly appetizers, a slew of sandwiches and hearty entrees. The Ale House offers seating on an upper deck beneath a bright red-and-blue-striped awning decked with lights, and below on a shady recessed brick patio where the lower level bar is just steps away.

Roots Restaurant and Cellar

1818 N. Hubbard St.



Whether sitting at one of the bistro tables on the restaurant’s upper deck or relaxing on the cushy lounge furniture outside of the cellar, a visit to Roots in the burgeoning Brewers Hill neighborhood is accompanied by a phenomenal view of Milwaukee’s skyline. The outdoor patio is carved into the hillside, where diners enjoy Chef John Raymond’s seasonal menu surrounded by a lush garden filled with organic herbs and native plants.


5133 S. Lake Drive



Sheridan House, an upscale boutique hotel with a dozen guest rooms, isn’t near Milwaukee’s more popular Downtown tourist destinations, but it does occupy valuable real estate very close to Lake Michigan, just south of Milwaukee in Cudahy. Ample, comfortable seating under fabric umbrellas, free-standing heaters, a babbling fountain, a brick fire pit, a pergola wrapped in vines and stone garden boxes planted with fresh herbs make this picturesque patio popular with Sheridan House guests, as well as cyclists from the nearby Oak Leaf Trail and golfers playing the course across the street at Warnimont.

Trocadero Gastrobar

1758 N. Water St.



By opening Trocadero in a refurbished corner tap, the Diablos Rojos restaurant group gave something novel and spirited to a diminished industrial neighborhood south of the Milwaukee River on the city’s East Side. They were ambitious when it came to offering outdoor dining, first with a comfortable year-round heated patio, then a more secluded covered structure wrapped in grapevines, and a charming multi-level stonework patio with a tranquil fountain that speaks of a Parisian courtyard café. Trocadero recently underwent a transformation from a French bistro to a gastrobar, and the new menu reflects it with an emphasis on wildly hand-shaken margaritas and dishes from various ports of call.

The Yard at the Iron Horse Hotel

500 W. Florida St.



There are a number of views to behold from the swanky confines of The Yard, the tremendous outdoor patio adjoining the Iron Horse Hotel in Walker’s Point: the soaring cables of the Sixth Street Viaduct Bridge, the occasional freight train passing by, and those looking to see and be seen. Blazing fire pits are set in a bank of immense rocks that offer seclusion from the road, and colorful “sails” of fabric provide shade to visitors and locals alike who sip pricy drinks and dine on a small but select outdoor menu that includes sophisticated starters and spreads, as well as a few entrees like a burger and ribs.


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