Summertime, and the outdoor eating is easy. But in their heated attempts to offer al fresco dining, some restaurants push the boundaries too darn far. It's one thing to squeeze seating onto a sidewalk or into a fenced-in area beside an alley, but who wants to eat crammed against a busy, overpriced parking lot, as you do when you dine outside Redfish Seafood Kitchen at Union Station?
Fortunately, other LoDo patios make more sense. For example, just up and across the street from Redfish at Señorita's Cantina (1700 Wynkoop Street) and the Wynkoop Brewing Company (1634 18th Street), you can catch some of the same action, but from a secure people-watching vantage point above the street. A block farther up Wynkoop, the urban-chic setup of Anita's Crab Company gives you a chance to annoy tenants in the lofts above while you gaze -- from a safe distance -- at the parking garage across the street. And just a few hundred feet farther on, you can observe Coors Field scalpers do their thing up close and personal from the cozy confines of the deck at Fadó Irish Pub (1735 19th Street).
Heading back toward downtown, both Il Fornaio (1631 Wazee Street) and Dixons Downtown Grill (1610 16th Street) have installed attractive, umbrella-shaded patios on their wide, Wazee-side sidewalks. A few blocks away, on the 16th Street Mall, the see-and-be-seen scene doesn't get much more interesting than at Rialto Cafe (934 16th Street), Rock Bottom Brewery (1001 16th Street) and Palomino Euro Bistro (1515 Arapahoe Street) --especially the latter, which still has its fair share of angst-ridden youth lurking about on skateboards. The nearby Panzano (1717 Champa Street) just put in a patio that's supposed to be reminiscent of an outdoor Italian cafe (but then, Panzano's food is supposed to be reminiscent of Italian, too). Elsewhere downtown, the view's as good as the food on the mountain-facing second-floor patio of Cadillac Ranch (1400 Larimer); another great view of the Front Range, albeit more of a slice than a vista, is available at Mestizo (303 16th Street), where the plant-filled second-floor deck cuts out traffic noise but still allows city lights to twinkle through.
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For more down-and-dirty, casual fresh-air dining, check out the roof at LoDo's Bar and Grill (1946 Market Street), or lie low by Confluence Park at My Brother's Bar (2376 15th Street). On the edge of downtown, Cherokee Dining on 12th (1201 Cherokee Street) features a pergola-covered patio out back that's a real Rocky Mountain respite, complete with flagstone tables, a water garden and plenty of blooming plants.
In Cherry Creek, Michael's of Cherry Creek (2710 East Third Avenue) and the next-door Petra's (2700 East Third Avenue) have taken advantage of their below-street-level status to put in patios that feel secluded but still are very much a part of the restaurants to which they're attached. (Special bonus: You can see who's at the other eatery across the way.) The new Manhattan Grill (231 Milwaukee) has much the same arrangement; meanwhile, both Mel's Bar and Grill (235 Fillmore Street) and Papillon (250 Josephine Street) offer street-level al fresco eating. Over at the shopping center, Roy's (3000 East First Avenue) features a more upscale outdoor scene than does the casual California Pizza Kitchen right across the valet stand. (Barry Fey, former concert promoter and eternal man about town, recently ate at the California Pizza Kitchen thirteen out of fourteen days because, he says, he wanted people to know he was still around.)
For rural atmosphere in the city, it doesn't get any more Zen than at Domo (1365 Osage Street), where the Japanese-style garden is at its pristine, austere best right now. Flowers also are blooming by the outdoor tables at Highlands Garden Cafe (3927 West 32nd Avenue) and Potager (1109 Ogden Street). Ambrosia (5410 East Colfax Avenue) also has a patio up and running, with lots of foliage and a fence to keep out the Colfax noise.
Even with all of these al fresco options, I must confess that I miss the wonderful outdoor dining at La Coupole, the former occupant of the Paris Hotel space at 2191 Arapahoe Street. (I miss the address's subsequent occupant, La Brasserie, a lot less.) And there's still no word on what eatery will next attempt to fill La Coupole's sabots.