By Ray Downs
By Lindsay Toler
By Danny Wicentowski
By Lindsay Toler
By RFT Staff
By Lindsay Toler
By Allison Babka
By Lindsay Toler
It's a scientific fact: Alcohol tastes better when it is consumed outside. Chemists and mixologists have yet to determine why this is, but the evidence can be found on any patio on any summer night patrons with sweaty brows and perspiring beer bottles crowd around wrought-iron tables, enjoying the weather and toasting to the magic of summertime.
It is my honor to provide you with a few ideas to get you started on your outdoor-drinking adventures, featuring some perennial favorites and a few forgotten gems. But, by all means, get moving: Soon enough, the summer's warmth will turn this city from Heaven's backyard into Hell's humidor, so grab a drink, find a seat on the patio, and enjoy. By the time August rolls around, you'd be best advised to keep a running list of the bars with the coolest air conditioning.
Shots & Ladders
The Tower Grove South neighborhood continues to attract the city's under-30 crowd, with a handful of eateries and bars opening over the past few years. Friendly's Sports Bar & Grill (3503 Roger Place; 314-771-2040) has been at the same location for nearly 80 years, and throughout the years it has remained a quintessential neighborhood bar. Friendly's offers the platonic ideal of outdoor imbibing: cheap drinks, a beer garden and, best of all, leisure activities. Friendly's has two pits for washers (a staple of St. Louis summer fun), plus ladder golf, a relative newcomer to the backyard-games circuit that involves chucking a lanyard with a golf ball on each end toward a three-tiered PVC-pipe "ladder." The goal is to place the lanyard on one of the rungs, thus awarding you points and, by association, the respect and admiration of your friends. If the thought of inebriated patrons throwing projectiles is a tad frightening, you can retire to the nearby picnic tables and gaze at the patio's serene pond.
Garden of Tacky Delights
This is an easy one. The Venice Café (1903 Pestalozzi Street; 314-772-5994) is perhaps the best-loved bar in Soulard, a joint that has steadfastly staved off the march of time and good taste and remained a monument to the neighborhood's sense of the ridiculous. The outdoor mosaic of license plates, bottle caps and toy trucks is a testament to the mix of high art and low class that permeates Venice Café. At the same time, the leafy vegetation and tinkling goldfish pond gives the place a tropical vibe (which is enhanced by the Caribbean-inspired menu). The patio is such a crucial element of the bar's appeal that it's entirely possible to become a Venice devotee without ever spending time in the indoor bar.
Merlot by Moonlight
Jake Hafner's 33 Wine Shop & Tasting Bar (1913 Park Avenue; 314-231-9463) helped anchor the Lafayette Square district when it opened five years ago. With the arrival of flashier and grander spaces to the neighborhood, it's sometimes easy to forget about this humble wine bar. With its tome-like wine and beer list, 33 remains a drinker's paradise any time of the year. When the weather's nice, the bar's shotgun design opens into a spartan-but-relaxing outdoor area. Proving that a patio needs only to provide a table, a chair and a view of the night sky, 33's patio leaves you free to enjoy your company (or at least your drink) without distraction.
College bars have one significant drawback: They're usually packed full of actual college students, their lithe bodies and carefree demeanor reminding you of your own squandered youth. Humphrey's Restaurant & Tavern (3700 Laclede Avenue; 314-535-0700), located on the southern edge of Saint Louis University's campus, may be this city's best-known college bar, but don't let that scare you away: With summer vacation in effect and the bar's collegiate clientele out of town, Humphrey's is yours to claim. The outdoor patio is a little piece of midtown Heaven, and the dozen or so umbrella-shaded tables are perfect for happy-hours or lunchtime drinks. Humphrey's also has a 3 a.m. license, so your al fresco revelry can go into the wee hours. Be warned: The place gets bumping on Wednesday nights for the bacchanal known as Penny Pitchers, but most evenings guarantee you and your crew free reign over the patio.
Hide & Go Seek
The Hide Away (5900 Arsenal Street; 314-645-8822) couldn't be more aptly named; located just east of Hampton Avenue in south St. Louis, this piano bar is hidden in plain sight, the kind of place you drive by and say, "I gotta go there one of these days." No more excuses stop into this time capsule of a bar, which hosts pianist Mark Dew most evenings. The knit placemats at the bar are a nice, homemade touch, but take your beverage out front to one of the tables. Once seated on one of the mighty concrete benches around an equally mighty concrete table, you can enjoy your drink in the glow of neon beer signs and nearby streetlights. When seated, cast your gaze towards the traffic speeding by on Arsenal. What's the big hurry? Slow down, have a drink, and enjoy this hidden gem of south-side relaxation.
Unlike most mega-bars in town, John D. McGurk's (1200 Russell Boulevard; 314-776-8309) has actually earned the right to be so successful and sprawling. With its quality live Irish music and above-average pub grub, McGurk's has long been the standard of excellence for the other stout-pourers in town. While the interior bar retains its low-lit charm, the patio has taken on a personality of its own. Now housing two full-service bars and a mighty waterfall, McGurk's offers a near-bucolic setting for sipping pints. Unless you thrive amid crowds of young professionals, it's best to hit McGurk's patio during the week and avoid the throngs that crowd into this Soulard institution on the weekends. It's a scientific fact: Alcohol tastes better when it is consumed outside. Chemists and mixologists have yet to determine why this is, but the evidence can be found on any patio on any summer night patrons with sweaty brows and perspiring beer bottles crowd around wrought-iron tables, enjoying the weather and toasting to the magic of summertime.