Some places bar and restaurant trends come and go, while some places bar and restaurant trends become icons. Mandatory Milwaukee is all about the latter. Join us as we revisit beloved and well-worn local staples with fresh eyes, and explore how they might figure in the city’s future gear up for warmer weather and better times in Milwaukee.
In the seven years (and counting) of Milwaukee Record‘s existence, we’ve made a habit of covering the ever-growing presence of patios outside of bars, restaurants, coffee shops, breweries, distilleries, and countless other businesses in and around Milwaukee. Initially, we did these guides to inform people of the bounty of diverse outdoor seating options, to rake in some decent traffic numbers from a patio-obsessed populace, and—true to the “gentle sarcasm” Milwaukee Record touts—to remark about how weird it was for people to go so crazy over small plots of pavement on which they could eat and drink outside.
To be clear, we were never knocking patios. We’ve always enjoyed the opportunity to unwind outside the constrictive walls and ceilings of buildings when the weather permits. However, as we’re in the thick of the SECOND FULL SPRING of a pandemic—which, quite honestly, is the first spring season of actually knowing how to safely operate during said pandemic—and on the cusp of both warmer days and (hopefully) better times ahead, we’ve now become converted to devoted believers, ardent fans, and soon-to-be frequent occupants of patios and all other forms of outdoor seating amenities.
Since the “Safer At Home” order ended and businesses were permitted to re-open last June, the already-impressive patio offerings in the Greater Milwaukee area elevated to a whole different level. A mix of safety concerns for customers and the community as a whole, ingenuity to help compensate for indoor capacity limitations, and a widespread adaptation for what could be “the new normal” for some time, local business owners have sprung into action to create outdoor spaces to enjoy food and/or drinks or considerably improve and update the existing patios they already had pre-pandemic.
Driveways once set aside for performers have been converted onto cozy spots to enjoy drinks.
In addition to adding a bunch of new safety protocols to maximize customer comfort, area beer gardens have also made the most of the space they have to help put the “distance” into social distancing.
And where there isn’t a yard, driveway, or considerable space for a full-fledged patio, “parklets” have become more prevalent than ever before. Parking lots have also been put to good use.
Previously untended and underutilized backyards have been granted a second life at places like At Random.
And X-Ray Arcade (not currently open for indoor concerts or game play) adjusted its format to bring DJs and to serve drinks and pizza bagels outside.
In recent years (long before the COVID-19 crisis came Milwaukee’s way), patios have become a major part of how locals and visitors alike dine and drink in the city. As summer approaches, conditions improve, and businesses that have been forced to roll with the punches during an unprecedented time in human history find their footing, it’s safe to say there’s never been a better time to stay out(side) when going out for a bite or a beverage. Cheers to safe, responsible, and outdoor drinking, Milwaukee.