Once upon a time, it was challenging to find restaurants and bars where you could consume truly good drinks and food in natural daylight (or twilight or moonlight). The best cocktails were in deep, dark speakeasies, accessed through unmarked entrances and phone booths. The places with good food were protected by thick walls; invariably, light wasn't pouring in from the outdoors, it was coming from the open kitchen.
Recently the al fresco eating and drinking situation has improved exponentially. Your "safe" drink at the groovy rooftop bar no longer need be a Long Island Iced Tea; the go-to snack is not fried potsticker skewers. The following are some places where you can have your super-fun outdoor scene and eat your 16-hour-smoked beef shin, too.
Woodshed Smokehouse - Fort Worth, Texas
Because this is Texas and things are nice and big, star chef Tim Love settled for not an inch less than 14,000 square feet for his open-air restaurant. He has great respect for the wood he smokes over; the menu includes a key to the kind he uses for each dish, which ranges from traditional to never-before-seen barbecue. Beef ribs get oak; pork ribs get pecan; a bowl of ramen noodles with pulled pork meat juices is also pecan. And the party starts with the 16-Hour-Smoked Beef Shin with Chile, which is cooked over hickory and serves four. All the utensils and cups are biodegradable, and there are free performances of live music curated by Love on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights.
NoMad Hotel - New York City
The most gorgeous part of this gorgeous new hotel is the rooftop. During the summer, elite chef Daniel Humm offers six-course tasting menus for $125; tickets are available on line, starting at 11 a.m. for dinner that same evening. No, there's no discount if it rains; there are no outdoor dinners on those nights, at least until the awning is installed. Then you can party on the rooftop in all weather. Don't worry about getting stuck with lame crostini: Humm's tomato course includes salad, bread and an adorable house-bottled tomato soda.
Sweet Cheeks - Boston, Massachusetts
Top Chef star Tiffani Faison's great barbecue spot already had a lot going for it: a 4,700-pound smoker named Tootsie; a location that's close to Fenway Park. Now it also has a new outdoor beer garden, complete with retractable roof, whiskey barrels that double as tables and rotating beers on tap, including the local favorite, Clown Shoes' Tramp Stamp. There's a mint wall that will soon be key to Sweet Cheeks' mint juleps. And of course there's Faison's menu, including roof-bar-friendly favorites like a Berkshire pork rib for $3 (which you should probably get with a whole bucket of biscuits with honey butter).
Linger - Denver, Colorado
Some chefs would think they have enough going on just serving international street food in a converted 1940s mortuary. Not Justin Cucci, who will be putting two real life food trucks on the roof of his restaurant this summer. And when he says "putting," he means crane-lifting those trucks onto the roof. Eater.com reports that the first, a 26-foot RV, will become a street bar (what's a street bar?); the second will be a food trailer. Just don't forget your driver's license. Per Linger's website: 50 is the new 20. We I.D. everyone.
The Foundry & Chicken Scratch - Dallas, Texas
As I was saying, they do things big and plentifully in Texas. Witness Tim Byres, chef at Dallas's terrific barbecue joint Smoke. He has two new spots, and they comprise a whole block, with a huge, shared outdoor space where you'll see Twister painted on the sidewalk. Chicken Scratch serves up skillet-fried chicken; there's the option of having the bird cooked over a pecan wood rotisserie. The Foundry features roll-up garage doors, whiskey and beer and a stage built from over 600 wood pallets. "This is all about live music and good times, cans of beer, crazy amounts of drafts," says Byres.