BY ANDREW COPPOLINO | UPDATED MAY 2023
Everyone, it seems, loves a patio. Customers love to be outside in the sun and breeze, or under the bare bulb string lights of a warm July evening. Restaurants and bars of course love patios that bolster their business as soon as the permits permit and the weather agrees.
Over the pandemic years, more flexibility from licensing officialdom saw more patios pop up. The trend continues: downtown business associations love to happily plan events around a cooperative agglomeration of like-minded patios: music, food and drink, and the camaraderie of groups of people make visiting a city core fun and delicious.
Depending on a business’s property, patios can appear on sidewalks, thanks to city officials, and may edge into some of the parking spaces adjacent. But more and more, cities themselves are transforming the vehicular traffic routes in a downtown into patio hubs and pedestrian environments with street closures
In Kitchener, new sails for patios will help with both sun and rain, and a patio map will be ready shortly. Look for patio installation to be complete by month’s end – and make a note to join the DTK patio party in early June.
There are about 70 restaurants in Uptown Waterloo – and you’ll find nearly 50 with patios: it’s a testament to the vibrancy patios provide. Pedestrian environments and patio hubs are scheduled to be set up again on Dominion Lane and Princess Street.
In Cambridge, Main Street (Galt) will be closed to cars to facilitate full pedestrian and patio space from May 20 to October 10, while Queen Street (Hespeler) will close on weekends (4:30 p.m. Friday to 9 p.m. Sunday) beginning June 3 until October 9.
Seven patio picks to enjoy this summer
The Gator’s Tail Sports Shack & Grill
Alanna Sisto-Hallman, owner of The Gator’s Tail on Franklin, happily announces the sports bar is 10 years old.
“We’re excited to have things back into full swing and ready for a patio opening party with live music and sampling,” she says. “We are also excited to announce the return of our annual craft beer show in June that features 18 of Ontario’s top craft breweries. Thursdays on the patio will have live acoustic music, while our summer food and drink menu will feature seasonal salads and Willibald’s spirits and seltzers on tap.”
Old Galt Bottle Shop
With a capacity of 30 (and about half of that covered), the OG Bottle Shop patio can stretch out onto the front lawn of the property. The ambiance for sipping a selection of beer, along with some cocktails, cider or wine, is enhanced by heaters and blankets, when necessary, and the ubiquitous patio string lights, according to Rob Quilty, OGBS co-owner with Rob Rappolt.
Table service has been added to the patio for this summer; in talking with Quilty, you get the impression that following the Covid mayhem that all businesses faced the Bottle Shop is ready to hit its stride after takeout alcohol sales were opened up and made permanent by provincial licensing bodies.
“We’ve now got a menu by chef Zerka Mya and that adds more of a food component to our strong presence with beer. We’ll keep building on that,” Quilty says.
The beer options are indeed strong: there are roughly 200 varieties from eight “themed fridges” (for example: IPA) that you can purchase to take home. Then, for the patio, there are eight taps that you can choose from to pair with what you’re eating.
It seems the events plan is a busy one too. “We will have live music on the patio this summer,” Quilty says. “And each weekend, there’s something going on. That could be a pop-up brewer, a makers’ market and comedy night.”
The Grand Surf Lounge
There are two patios for the price of one at DTK’s Grand Surf: roasted by the sun, or gently warmed over medium heat in the shade. The Surf’s Ontario Street patio is courtesy of Kitchener’s BIA: it’s seating for about 12 who demand soaking up the sun’s full-afternoon power while sipping a “Three Dots and a Dash” and watching the downtown’s passersby including the many dog-walkers to’ing and fro’ing.
Head through the tidy and tropical tiki trimmings of the restaurant and into the backyard and you’ll find a shady, pineappley and mulberry-treed nook with string lights at night and seating for 14 to 16. The music surfs outdoors with Grand Surf’s popular post-war lounge exotica and the interesting tiki-tune culture that swirls in the space – and in your head – inside. The back patio is a bit darker and certainly more secluded and quiet than the roasted coast out front.
Eby Street Bodega
It’s not a restaurant, but it is a unique food option for the downtown. Rather, Eby Street Bodega, which opened at the end of December, is a casual affair with customers grabbing their plate and seating themselves outside at the six or so tables outside on their “alley patio:” it’s a super cool place to watch the farmers’ market activity right across the street.
The Bodega is self-described by owners Anna Staszewska and Dino Trtovac as a small specialty grocery and cheese shop,
“Customers can enjoy a small snack menu including a selection of rotating cured meats, cheeses, and seafood conservas on the patio Wednesday to Saturday,” says Trtovac.
A scroll through their Instagram posts will reveal dishes and foods that help give the Bodega a very nice European feel.
I asked if there were any fun events at the restaurant and bar, like buskers juggling chainsaws, but manager Megh Forrester says there’s nothing that outrageous at the Hop House patio in Uptown Waterloo – except fun and a cool vibe. That comes primarily from the fact that she says Hop House has been happy to be making upgrades to what is now a permanent patio space.
“We’re wiring in permanent audio and putting in more tables and ones with flexible sizes, at the same time we are refreshing our old ones,” says Forrester.
The lighting will provide a cool vibe for listening to live music on the weekends along with live music inside the Hop House. “We looking to get more artwork and murals up on the outside of the building too,” Forrester says. It’s a cool patio environment in the area with several urban patios just a hop away and ready to serve up summer.
Puddicombe invested time, effort, money and imagination to create a comfortable and energized outdoor dining area during the worst days of the pandemic. They’ve taken their cue from that necessary patio mobilization when indoor dining was verboten and amplified it on the restaurant’s current outdoor orientation.
“We plan on having the patio fully operational again on May 19,” says co-owner Nick Cressman. “This means covered areas for rain, two large private gazebos, as well as outdoor seating with umbrellas. We spent a lot of time making our outdoor setting feel like a European courtyard.”
They’ve been successful in creating that atmosphere and with a capacity of about 80 guests, it’s larger than many restaurants. Just as a sidebar, the Puddicombe property was recently used for filming a Hallmark movie, so visit and check out its cinematic qualities.
Blending Mennonite and German food traditions, along with enormous barbecue pit smokers with rotary carousels able to cook up to 800 kgs of meats imported from Mesquite, Texas, Crowsfoot Smokehaus is a relatively new and energetic venue in a very old part of Waterloo Region culinary history. They relish the opportunity to function at full tilt with the worst pandemic conditions now behind us.
There will be lots of outdoor activity on their patio, itself Texas-sized with about 100 seats. As summer truly rolls in, Crowsfoot will have live music lined up starting on Thursdays that will make the atmosphere itself come alive as only musical performances can. Recently, weekend brunch started, and look for an outdoor Father’s Day event to take place in June. That will certainly include barbecue, beer and music.
Andrew Coppolino is food columnist with CBC-KW and Metroland newspapers. The author of Farm to Table (Swan Parade Press) and co-author of Cooking with Shakespeare (Greenwood Press), he is the 2022 “Joseph Hoare Gastronomic Writer-in-Residence” at the Stratford Chefs School. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @andrewcoppolino.