Chicagoans have been chomping at the bit for patio season, and thanks to increased daylight and higher temps, the time has finally come. As dining establishments unveil their al fresco settings, here are some prime spots for al fresco eating.
Big Star (1531 N. Damen Ave.)
Take one step off the Damen Blue Line El stop in Wicker Park and it becomes immediately apparent where the hippest outdoor haunt is. Big Star does a booming al fresco business, filled to the brim with eager taco- and whiskey-lovers from all over. There's often a line to get in, but the patio is so enormous, you won't be waiting long. If you'd rather keep it quick and casual, Big Star opened an adjacent take-out window complete with its own outdoor dining area, immersed in pretty shrubs and such.
Three Aces (1321 W. Taylor St.)
Taylor Street's liveliest patio can be found at Three Aces. The American/Italian bar/restaurant boasts a parking lot-sized al fresco scene stocked with picnic tables. The full booze and food menu is provided, and Three Aces has been known to project movies onto the adjacent wall on the other side of the patio on certain nights, lending the feel of a Drive-In movie.
Sportsman's Club (948 N. Western Ave.)
Cocktails are best sipped outside under twinkly lights. Sportsman's Club, on the edge of Humboldt Park and Ukrainian Village, is just the spot. The casual, dimly lit neighborhood bar is plenty fun indoors with its chess board-topped tables, but the back patio is the real stunner. Order one of the bar's bracing cocktails - selections rotate regularly, so there's always something new to sip - and perch yourself out back to drink in the fresh air.
Ada Street (1664 N. Ada St.)
Mosey down the nondescript streets on the outer fringes of Bucktown to discover a clandestine patio oasis at Ada Street. The restaurant raises its garage door when the weather is nice to open up its boisterous backyard patio, draped in twinkling lights and Astro-Turf, and bedecked with outdoor ping-pong. The whole al fresco experience here feels like a killer backyard barbecue party, but with better food than most home parties.
I|O Godfrey (127 W. Huron St.)
The Godfrey Hotel's al fresco dining and drinking space provides a panorama like no other. With the snazzy, stylish feel of a beach-y knoll, the restaurant boasts the largest year-round retractable outdoor lounge in Chicago. When retracted, guests can pour out onto the patio, which provides a sprawling view of River North.
Celeste (111 W. Hubbard St.)
Get ready for lustrous views to go with your cocktails and food at River North's Celeste. The multi-floored bar and restaurant features The Garden as its crown jewel rooftop patio, as weather gets warmer. Expect vintage-y punch bowls, Victorian-style seating, ivy-covered walls, and a general sense of ambient happiness.
Howells & Hood (435 N. Michigan Ave.)
One of the largest patios in the city can be found at Howells & Hood, a restaurant whose al fresco space is larger than many restaurants themselves. Stocked with an impressive 300 seats, the patio is lavishly maintained and landscaped, draped with soothing umbrellas for sunny days and equipped with infrared heating for chillier evenings. All in all, with 5,700 square feet of al fresco space, this is the place to linger this spring and summer.
The Terrace at Trump (401 N. Wabash Ave.)
Then there's The Terrace at Trump, the closest thing you'll ever get to being a gargoyle perched atop a skyscraper. Located on the 16th floor of the Trump International Hotel & Tower, the stunning setting re-opens in May with a gorgeous vista of downtown Chicago. While here, indulge in chic cocktails and warm-weather bites.
Photos: Big Star, Three Aces, Ada Street, I|O Godfrey, Howells & Hood