Dining al Fresco in Kansas City

The weather warmed up considerably this last week, which immediately had me dropping by places where I could eat and drink in the open air. If Kansas City’s smoking ban has done anything, it has seriously expanded our options in this area. After all, even Dave’s Stagecoach boasts a patio these days. Options being widely varied and ever expanding, I decided to pay a visit to few local establishments to see how the season is shaping up thus far.

One of the best aspects of Cafe Trio’s relatively new location is the nice view of the Plaza¬† accommodating outdoor diners. The deck is semi-exposed, bleeding fairly seamlessly into the indoor dining room. The area is served by its own bar and is typically populated by Trio’s notoriously well-heeled yet boisterous patrons. A smaller, completely open patio serves patrons looking for more intimacy with the elements. Or a cigarette. This is a nice ambiance in which to savor one of their many wines (half price on Tuesdays) or nosh on their excellent pork short rib appetizer. Just be prepared for the inevitable fleet of frat boys on crotch rocket motorcycles flatulating down Main street.

Westside Local’s patio has garnered all sorts of rave reviews since it opened last year which all seem well-deserved. Covered by a sturdy wooden trellis that crawls with ivy in the summer, this veritable beer garden is a casual and fun environs in which to imbibe one of their well-prepared cocktails. The long picnic tables encourage table-sharing, one of the best ideas I have seen in a local place. While the crowd gets lively later in the night, Westside Local patrons are a pretty respectable bunch.

McCoy’s probably has the most well-known deck in town, a distinction that makes perfect sense considering that it sits in the heart of Westport. The corner location gets a lot of foot traffic, and it is not unusual to see people talking over the railing to friends on the street. Punctuated nicely by shady trees, McCoy’s deck is just about the perfect spot for after work drinks. If you stay too long into the dinner hour, you may find yourself tempted by the fish and chips or one of their excellent specialty burgers.

Across the intersection lies a patio near and dear to my heart at Harry’s Bar & Tables. The¬† multi-leveled outdoor seating area is both an eminently social and intimate space, depending on where you sit. People watching, if that’s your bag, is a big deal here since you can see every Harpo’s-bound fratboy and suburban punk rocker that saunters by (Harpo’s does have a nice patio by the way). Harry’s caters to a slightly older crowd than most Westport establishments and also seems to be popular with service industry types.

On to another Harry’s. Not too long ago, the outdoor seating area at Harry’s Country Club in the River Market received a minor but much needed makeover. What previously reminded me of a monkey cage is now a more colorful outdoor patio with an enclosure alongside the building that can be opened or closed according to the whims of Mother Nature. The patio features one of the best views of Kansas City’s skyline, a southward orientation that is uncommon among local establishments. Harry’s has one of the best Happy Hours around too, with multiple beers, cocktails and foodstuffs on special. Despite the inevitable onslaught of cigar smoke, the crowd is easy-going, fun-loving and diverse.

I wish I could say the same for John’s Big Deck on Wyandotte street downtown. A recent post-work visit had me waiting on the sidewalk for the doorway to open well after 4:30 p.m. That, coupled with the small horde of 20-something Power & Light rejects and semi-professional drunks in my midst forced me to make a preliminary departure. The Big Deck is still a great spot with a fantastic view, and is a perfectly acceptable after-work place to throw back a few Bud Lites al fresco in a scenic setting.

When The Well opened near 75th and Wornall last year, it promised to be the hottest outdoor spot in town. Given the crowd I saw there on a recent weeknight, I think this promise is coming to fruition. The tented rooftop houses quite a few tables, all of which were filled with young men and women in the throes of early evening buzzes. This place fills up quickly and gets extremely loud, assisted by earnest “modern rock” blaring overhead. This is the man-sandal, Ed Hardy, backwards baseball cap crowd, so consider yourself warned. I like the food at The Well quite a bit, but the service is extremely spotty (I’m being diplomatic) on the roof so I would consider this a drinking spot, brah.

The Velvet Dog in Martini Corner won’t win any enlightened patron awards either but the patio is extremely pleasant. It feels like hanging out in a friend’s back yard, with brick flooring and an abundance of shade. There is a dedicated bar under a covered tent that also shields an outdoor pool table from the elements. More excitingly, you can play Bocce Ball in the court toward the back. Happy Hour drinks are affordable and varied, though the food is typical bar fare. While nearby Sol Cantina has a larger and perhaps more popular outdoor seating area, the Velvet Dog is my choice in Union Hill.

While it may not look like much, Brookside’s Aixois French Restaurant contains one of the best patios is the city. If you can handle the preponderance of little old Mission Hills ladies, small children and dogs, it offers a great view of the Trolley Track Trail and the residential area beyond. The tables are a little close together and the service can be a tad stuffy, but the menu is one of the most consistent I’ve encountered. The patio is just an absolute joy in the warm months, the perfect excuse for an evening glass of rose and one of the best shrimp cocktails you will ever have. It’s not a rocking good time but an extremely calm and delightful one.

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