Spring weather. Beautiful sunsets. What's missing? If you answered "hiking boots and a compass," we clearly don't run in the same circles.
In fact, I prefer not to run at all — especially when there are watering holes with an outdoor patio to kick back on. I'm not a smoker but many of my friends are, and patio drinking is the happiest medium for all of us. Elements to enjoy, and a drink to better enjoy them with. What could be finer?
Here's a list of some of my favorite outdoor drinking spots, from the urban views of downtown to the hidden green acres of Longwood. Better grab that compass after all — we've got some exploring to do.
Aside from the cozier and somewhat hipper neighbors at Tap & Grind, there isn't much scenery on Central Boulevard around Ember (42 W. Central Blvd., downtown Orlando). But step into the sprawling patio, and it's the closest you can get to drinking in a Tuscan village. Ember's towering pillars and swaying palms surround the central bar outdoors, with a roof to ward off April showers. Definitely a favorite warm-up spot for the high-toned nightclub crowd, with a solid menu of flatbreads and sliders and some enticing happy-hour specials from 4-7:30 p.m. on Fridays.
And where does that high-toned crowd head to afterward? If the weather cooperates, Sky Sixty (60 N. Orange Ave., downtown Orlando, above The Social) is a safe bet. Excluding the Amway Center's opulent 180 Grey Goose Lounge, this is the swankiest rooftop bar in town — and a good deal more affordable. If the elevation doesn't do it, the whitewashed ottomans and lush cabanas should definitely help to convey the impression that you're "above it all."
Judging by the crowds, the secret is out about downtown Orlando's hidden speakeasy, Hanson's Shoe Repair (27 E. Pine St., above NV). To get in, you have to call ahead of time, "speak easily" and leave a message on the answering machine (407-476-9446). In return, the Hanson folks will send the daily password that gets you through the door. Is all this subterfuge worth it? In spades. Head up the stairs, and this humble "shoe shop" reveals itself as a roaring '20s throwback cocktail lounge complete with ambience-adjusting house rules (no cellphone use) and a breathtaking open-roof lounge that boasts the occasional live jazz band. The cocktails may not quite match the craftsmanship at The Courtesy, but no one who appreciates a good Negroni will go away mad — and the scenery more than makes up for it.
If you're looking to hide from the madding crowd in the Ivanhoe Village district, grab a craft beer or glass of wine at the bar of the Imperial at Washburn Imports (1800 N. Orange Ave., Orlando), then head out the side door. The slender patio there has cosmopolitan cool to spare, thanks to the hodgepodge of imported furniture and largely local crowd. Some of the seats may not be the most comfortable lounging spots in town, but they're probably more expensive than any couch you own, so sit back and look rich.
The spot at 4910 Edgewater Drive has a lot of history as a reliable Orlando lesbian bar (most prominently in its incarnation as Faces), but Castle Knights is hoping to win a more inclusive crowd. One secret weapon: The spacious and rustic back patio, which includes a fire pit. Even in Florida, there's nothing like drinking around a fire, and with a new local art night on Saturdays hosted by arts promoter Frankie Messina, there should be plenty of characters to share it with.
Farther north, we can't possibly forget the bar at Wekiva Island (Miami Springs Drive, Longwood). Technically, this isn't a patio bar, because that implies the presence of walls, or at least an enclosure. The modest but friendly tiki bar at Wekiva Island has none, just a great view of the dock on the Wekiva River. Sip a beer or wine, then work it off with a little volleyball or even a jaunt on a rented canoe. Just be sure to leave the area as you found it, party people. The open access to the wilds affords you that much more responsibility to properly "appreciate" nature.
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