There are precious few exceptions anywhere in the world to the old adage "The better the view, the worse the food," but in Seattle, there's also the drink corollary: "The better the patio, the worse the drinks." In a city blessed with precious few sunny days, you'd do well to stay away from the big-budget patios serving up sugary-sweet margaritas. Instead, you'll want to find the secret gardens, the squirreled-away patios, and the few spots with sprawling water views that also serve up top-notch drinks.
Want to know where those are? Here's our guide to the Seattle area's best places to drink outside.
Marination Ma Kai
Best for three-beer lunches and fans of eating with your hands, Ma Kai, Marination's third location (after Mobile and Station) breaks both the rules mentioned above: you can eat their incredible spam sliders while admiring one of the best panoramic vistas in the city, and enjoy their custom-made Marination Brown session ale from Big Al's Brewing while sitting on the bright-blue and green chairs on the patio.
Along with the seven other beers selected for the tap by Washington's first female cicerone, Ma Kai serves cocktails (through a window to the patio, so you don't even have to go inside to order), and boozy versions of shave ice, the Hawaiian hot-weather treat. Toss in the ease of getting here via the water taxi straight from downtown, and it's hard to imagine a better place to spend a sunny afternoon.
If you aren't looking carefully, peering behind the lemon verbena and sage plants, you'll barely know the sweetly romantic garden at Poppy is actually plopped down in a parking lot. Planter boxes and raised beds form impromptu walls, the herbs rising high to shield the noise and view from outside. The chef here, Jerry Traunfeld, did make his name at a place called 'The Herbfarm,' so it only makes sense to be surrounded by fragrant herbs as you sip. Those herbs are also found in many of the drinks—like the sage afloat in the Bada Bing (made with Bing cherries, Buffalo Trace Bourbon, lemon juice, bitters, and sage).
To drink here in the garden, though, you generally have to eat—the few small tables next to the brick building are reserved for diners. But if you come when it's slow, and ask nicely, they've been known to let you sit and enjoy the Shrubbing Bubbles out there. And you should, as this mix of Cava, strawberries, Mount Gay rum, orgeat, and a cinnamon and cardamom-spiced shrub is a bright-orange sparkler, which is vaguely reminiscent of a melted Otter Pop and invokes a nostalgia for warm summer days of childhood.
Hopvines and passionflowers weave through the wooden fence, guarding drinkers at the Yard from the busy Greenwood traffic and sending a message regarding what the bar is all about: a passion for hops. As the name implies, most of the seating at the bar is in the big front patio, even with a recent expansion.
Hoppy beers prevail on the menu of this Mexican restaurant/bar, the owners having made the mental leap that tacos pair as well with an IPA as they do with a Margarita (though they make a mighty strong one of those here, too). IPAs take up about half of the menu of twenty or so brews, with a huge variety within the category: rye IPAs, session-style, and heavy high-alcohol IPAs are all represented.
At The Yard, neighbors meet neighbors and beer lovers sit side by side with strangers, soccer fans, and those in search of a boozy brunch in a community atmosphere that's rare in Seattle. Something about sitting at a picnic table in the sun with a great IPA that does that to people.
One glass of rosé on the Bottlehouse patio, and you're likely to be planning a Provençal vacation. Running along the outside of the old Craftsman housing the wine shop and tasting room, the patio's French-style metal chairs and wooden tables are shielded from the street by a flurry of greenery. The only possible downside to the narrow porch is that you might need to go for ice cream after; succumbing to the scent of Molly Moon's waffle cones floating over from two doors down.
In the meantime, take the opportunity to sip taster sizes, flights, or full glasses from Bottlehouse's well-curated menu (you can also pay a small corkage fee and open any bottle you've chosen in the store). The list covers a mix of Northwest and European wines, but goes much deeper than you'd expect with just two-dozen wines. From a dry Spanish Moscatel to a Nebbiolo from southeastern Washington, the list is intriguing and the staff is incredibly well-versed not only in the wines themselves but also in the art of helping the customer find just the right one. Which, on patio-weather days, often involves the rotating European rosé on tap.
Fonda La Catrina
In a classic Georgetown post-industrial recycling move, two large boat sails strung overhead provide shade to the whole of the Fonda la Catrina patio. Underneath, the wooden tables are covered in bright Mexican-design oilcloths, which seem to look out of place until an order of chips, guacamole, and a Paloma land on them.
On the Mexican-inspired drink menu, the Palomazo is the best of the bunch, a smoky take on the traditional Paloma, made by adding mezcal to grapefruit soda in place of tequila. Fans of spicy drinks flock to the Fresca, which mixes El Jimador Tequila with muddled cilantro and serrano pepper, before adding in pineapple juice and lime.
Canon has taken up the mantle of great cocktails on a tiny garden patio from the late, great, Sambar. But a seat on the patio is far from a sure thing. The patio opens when it can (generally around 6, Thursday through Sunday) and closes when it wants (as early as 8:30, if it cools off in the evening). And it fills up fast when it's open, as there's not enough room for a dozen people, even if they squeeze. But the opportunity to drink from Jamie Boudreau's menu of every great spirit under the sun, while sitting under the sun, or to sip from his dessert-like take on Murray Stenson's classic, called the Last Float (there's Chartreuse ice cream involved), while watching the moonrise is worth the challenge to get here.
The best way to find out if you can drink your carbonated Hemingway daiquiri (called the Hemingway Speciale) at one of the four wrought-iron tables is to pay attention to their Twitter feed and see if they mention it's being open. Failing that, a trip down to find out is still worth it—you'll just have to be consoled with a flight of Sazeracs at the indoor bar.
Where to Drink Outside in Seattle: The Map
Where do you like to drink outdoors in the Seattle area? Add to the list in the comments below!
About the author: Naomi Bishop is a Seattle based food and travel writer. Find her wandering through words and worlds on her blog, TheGastroGnome, where she claims that being a GastroGnome is not about sitting idly on the front lawn of culinary cottages. Follow her explorations of cooking and culture around the world at @GastroGnome. Get restaurant suggestions and locate local eats in the Northwest from her app, Unique Eats of the Northwest.