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Detroit Goes Al Fresco

Seems like every bar nowadays has a sort of plug-and-play solution for outdoor drinking and dining. You know, the janky green plastic lawn chair affair or the poser-rific “Cinzano umbrellas mean mod!” café-terrace scene. Here in Detroit ‘though the al fresco drinking experience isn’t about pushing patio furniture bought at the CVS or pretending that you’re sipping Peroni on the piazza or Pernod on the Left Bank. Nah, outdoor summer drinking here in the city has a certain je ne sais quoi all of it’s own.

But before you grab your sunnies and head out the door, stop for a sec and do a little Q&A with your inner party person. Are you looking for a low-budget, Pabst-in-a-can experience, or can you spring for a nice bottle of something- something and tip the bartender twenties all afternoon? How about the extent of your warm fuzzies towards humanity that day? Do you want to smile happily at strangers while you nurse that one beer, or do you hate all people and want to believe that the Earth’s population is roughly 15-20 warm bodies?

Once you’ve answered those few simple questions, and SPF-ed yourself, of course, you are officially ready to rock the Detroit patio.  

Do not disturb

So you wanna lay low, but you still kinda wanna see people? Well, you’re in luck with a couple of smashing options for whittling away the day (or night) with your inner circle of choice and forgetting the world out-out-side.  

Let’s go old-school first. Sinbad’s on St. Clair Avenue off Jefferson (about a mile East of the Belle Isle Bridge) is probably the closest you can get to the Detroit River without actually falling in it. Kickin’ it close to 60 years now, the drinks at Sinbad’s are still pretty gosh-darn cheap and flow a plenty. And those freighters that make you proud to be a Great Laker? Well, they stream by all day on what starts to feel like your own private waterfront. So, if you’re feeling like getting out on the water, but aren’t looking forward to popping Dramamine like Tic-Tacs all afternoon, head on over to Sinbad’s and get sun, surf, and your very own server!

Now, if you kinda dig the nautical theme, but still like to enjoy the environment at a distance, head to Jimmy Schmidt’s Rattlesnake Club on Jos. Campau in the East Riverfront area (also off Jefferson) for some top-notch wine and liquor on the small, intimate back patio with amazing views of the Hiram Walker. But pitcher beer drinkers beware. This is top-shelf territory, so think bottles of Justin or single-malt Scotch before you make the trek over. If you do decide this is the place for you, try some of the weekly wine-tasting events on the patio this June, July and August. You may fall so in love with outdoor life at the Rattlesnake that you might just consider a move to one of the surrounding River Place apartments or condos.

Over in Midtown, stop off at the Agave back patio (Woodward and Canfield) which just opened up for the season this past Cinco de Mayo. Live music, a mean house Margarita and fresh tortilla chips are on the menu in this intimate (albeit walled-brick) party space with an amazing view of one of the oft-overlooked architectural wonders of Midtown, the Willis Heating Plant. Seriously, how often can you get that close to industrial splendor while enjoying fresh Detroit air, local tunes and one of the city’s best selections of Tequila? Run don’t walk. The Patrón Añejo will be waiting.

One the best-kept (yeah, still!) secrets in Detroit is the La Dolce Vita  (Woodward near McNichols) patio. You’ve heard about it for brunch and those bottomless mimosas, but come Tuesday evenings, this flora-and-fountain-heavy haven turns into one of the best dance parties around town. With DJs and live music all through the summer, La Dolce has you covered (literally) with its large and comfy shaded tables, and the shelter of the main bar outside. Even if you can’t make it on Tuesdays, enjoy the patio six nights a week for great wine and cocktails and the best bartenders in the land. And just remember, valet is the way at La Dolce, so even if you go plastic for the evening, make sure you bring parking money+ phat tip for the boys in the lot.

Other “private” patio mentionables about town:

Honest? John's: Out back at this Selden Avenue watering hole, it's no frills and get your own beer. That's the Honest John's way.

Old Miami: Can't get more local than the Miami on Cass Ave. The patio's not fancy, but it's stll one of the best backyards in the city.

Motor City Brewing Works: Yeah, it's in a parking lot, but look, rise above it on the second floor of the brewery and enjoy a GhettoBlaster and some great Michigan wines.

Hoot's (the old Shelley's): Miss the old Tiger Stadium? No better trip back to the good ol' days than from the back of Hoot's.

Tom's Oyster Bar: The second-floor deck at Tom's on Jefferson downtown offers Oyster Shooters and one of the closest views of the DPM you'll get without being charged a fare.

Gawk and squawk

Sometimes, the ol’ privacy thing wears thin and you just wanna gawk awhile and giggle with friends — about others, of course. Well, here are a few places that will feed your cattiness quota while getting you the sun and fun you were seeking.

There’s no place like home. And for many downtown-dwellers, that means a visit to next-door-neighbors, Beaubien Street and the Detroiter Bar. Both these places rock the old-skool patio like no other. Complete with awnings and wrought-iron fences that tuck you safely in yet allow for great views of Greektown street life, all your classic drafts, favorite bottled beers (oh, and pitchers!) are always on the bar menu. So if you wanna go all-out local for the night, pop by either of these joints and order a cold one before you sit and confab the night away with the man on the street.   

In the heart of Downtown, Pulse (on Monroe just near the outskirts of Greektown) is the newest player in the patio scene. With music from DJs piped onto the patio from inside the swank, modern lounge, and cushy seats that won’t etch a criss-cross pattern on your bum, Pulse could be a strong contender for new favorite summer watering hole. And better still, summer drink specials are scheduled to abound at Pulse, which is a very good thing because it’s known for stocking only top-shelf, premium booze. Will that mean Pulse will give birth to the “Premium (Liquor) on Par” Happy Hour? Those folks sick of “Five O’ Clock” vodka Martini’s can only hope. 

Twingo’s (on Cass and Forest) is always a good choice for breakfast, brunch or dinner, but listen, their front patio is also great spot for checking out the Cass Corridor happenings, having a nice glass of Pinot (served in juice glasses, not fancy stemware), and basking in the midday heat. Even if you're a little sun shy, sit inside near the French doors and feel the breeze waft in around you. You may just decide to make an evening of it, too.  

Bookie’s Tavern on Washington Boulevard (near Trolley Plaza) is the little bar that could. Slowly building a good rep as the place to hang before or after a game, this establishment in the historic Book Building has also set up shop on the street for warm days. With draft and bottle beer selections up the wazoo, Bookie’s is also a great location to monitor the progress on the Book-Cadillac or even debate whether or not the red erector set should have been torn down. Either option will surely bring that ol’ “I Heart Detroit” smile to your sunburned mug.

Other people-watching spot mentionables:

Hockeytown: Tigers Game. Summer. Meet lots of drunk new friends. Need we say more?

Majestic Café: Hang and imbibe with the Midtown scenesters, and, if you're lucky, local Larry and his milk-crate drum kit will provide the hot night BGM.

La Dolce Vita

Small Plates and the Detroit Beer Company on Broadway



The Old Miami Backyard

Beaubien Street and The Detroiter

All Photographs Copyright Dave Krieger

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