Whenever it’s nice enough to sit outside in New York City, it always feels like a mistake. Almost as if the weather gods stopped paying attention for a minute and accidentally gave us a climate that wasn’t extremely cold, hot, or humid. So whenever this happens, you should be prepared. You can do so by reading this list of our Outdoor Greatest Hits. These are our all-time favorite places for eating and drinking outside, and they’re where you’ll want to be during those few weeks of the year when the outside world is exceedingly pleasant.
As a rule, a neighborhood Italian place is generally not worth travelling for. But Frankies in Cobble Hill is an exception. We’d travel several miles for their cavatelli with housemade sausage, and we also appreciate the fact that it always smells strongly of Italian food in here. But the best thing about Frankies 457 is probably the backyard. It’s tree-lined and surrounded by brick walls, and it’s perfect for anyone who watched Call Me By Your Name or saw a tourism poster for Tuscany and thought, “I’d like to eat outdoors in the Italian countryside right now.”
Even if it didn’t have a backyard, Lavender Lake would still be a place we’d send you for any sort of laid-back eating and drinking occasion. They serve great bar food and an excellent beer list, and, when the weather is nice, the giant back patio turns into a neighborhood clubhouse. You’ll want to spend a full afternoon here, and, once you see someone eating a burger, you’ll want one of those as well.
The original Shake Shack is in Madison Square Park, and, in the summertime, the park essentially becomes an enormous outdoor dining space. The Shake Shack itself is just one small kiosk with a bunch of tables nearby, but you can take your food to any of the benches around the park and eat your hamburger while you watch squirrels forage for less-good things. There will most likely be a very long line when you come here, but it moves quickly, and the odds that you’ll regret waiting in it will be about one in several million.
At one point in your life, you were a kid, and one of your highest priorities was to sit outside at a picnic table and eat something with your hands. If you’d like to feel like that again, go to Habana Outpost in Fort Greene. It’s a Latin American restaurant with a giant outdoor patio filled with picnic tables, and they serve everything from hamburgers and hot dogs to burritos and plates of roast pork with rice and beans. You should be drinking frozen margaritas here, and you should also stop by on a summer night to catch one of their outdoor movies on the patio.
The fact is, you don’t own a boat. It would be nice if you did, but you don’t. So seeing as how you can’t climb onto your own ship and drink a bottle of wine, just go to Grand Banks. This a schooner from the mid-20th Century that used to be used for fishing, but now sits docked near Battery Park. It still has all its masts, but the deck is now covered in two bars and lots of little tables. Make it a point to come at least once during your summer, and once you get here, eat some oysters and a lobster roll while you watch the sun set over the Hudson.
The backyard at Vinegar Hill House is lined with trees and sandwiched behind townhouses on a quiet cobblestone street in Dumbo. In other words, it’s extremely charming, and it’s also a relaxing place to eat great, wood-fired American food, like one of the best pork chops we’ve ever had. Walk across the Brooklyn Bridge and then end up here for one of the best summer one-two punches NYC has to offer.
Eating in the backyard of Claro makes you feel like you’ve left New York City for some other place that has two things you rarely find here: a big outdoor space, and really outstanding Mexican food. On any given night, you can find us closing our eyes and pretending like we’re sitting at Claro’s outdoor bar, underneath some twinkly lights, with a mezcal cocktail in hand, watching our tortillas being made on an open flame in front of us.
The backyard of Sweet and Vicious feels a little like a secret. If you were a tourist walking around Nolita, you’d have no idea that there’s space in the back of this dive bar where you could drink outside. Then again, it feels less like a secret at 6pm on a Tuesday when it’s packed with people who all had the same idea: to leave work early and drink a frozen margarita outdoors. Coming here on a Summer Friday (or any day) is an NYC rite of passage.
Go to a rooftop in Manhattan, and you’ll see the tops of some buildings and people doing strange things in their office windows. But at Westlight, you’ll see the whole city. This is the rooftop bar on top of the William Vale Hotel, and it’s the main reason why we don’t mind the fact that this enormous building exists amongst the otherwise non-enormous buildings of Williamsburg. The inside space has floor-to-ceiling windows, and the wraparound terrace has a view that will remind you why so many people make movies set in New York. There’s also food from the same people who run the downstairs restaurant (Leuca), and the cocktails are excellent. When you need to impress a date or out-of-towner, bring them here - and be sure to make a reservation.
You say “dinner outside in the West Village,” we think Barbuto. In a neighborhood full of exceedingly pleasant places to eat pasta and wine, Barbuto is still one of the best - and that’s especially true in the summer. This place is in a converted garage, and when they open up all the doors, the entire restaurant feels like it’s outside. When that happens, there are no bad seats here.
We would eat Roberta’s pizza on a sidewalk next to a dumpster out in front of the restaurant. In fact, we have done that. But in the summer, the patio gives you even more of a reason to come back to this classic Bushwick place that’s still making some of the greatest pizza in the city. And unlike in the restaurant, you don’t have to wait two hours to enjoy it. Just stop by the takeaway shop next door, put in your order, and when it’s ready, the patio and its stand-alone tiki bar are waiting for you.
Greenwood Park is like a playground, but instead of kids crying, it’s full of adults drinking frozen cocktails while playing cornhole. This huge indoor/outdoor beer garden in South Slope is a few blocks from Prospect Park, and it’s the better alternative for when one of your friends suggests your group just have a park picnic. Park picnics are fine, but pitchers of craft beer and lamb burgers and 16-ounce cocktails are better. All of which you can get at Greenwood Park. Keep it in mind for any and all of your big group summer hangs.
Any restaurant can put a couple of tables and chairs on the sidewalk and call it outdoor seating. But Lafayette holds the unique title of having the best sidewalk seating in New York City. There’s tons of space and shade, and it’s set up far enough away from the street that you’ll be able to quiet your ever-present fear of being hit by a rogue bicycle delivery guy. All that, and the upscale French food is reliably great.
Backyards like the one at Gran Electrica aren’t supposed to exist in NYC. Real estate is too precious, and outdoor dining is a luxury that only works for a quarter of the year. Fortunately, this large outdoor space does exist, and it’s where you should be eating Mexican food when it’s warm out and you’ve decided to prioritize your own personal happiness. The back patio is filled with tables and surrounded by trees and ivy, and can you sit beneath an umbrella out there while you enjoy some fish tacos and a beet-flavored margarita that’s roughly 10 times better than it should be.
Try as you might to avoid it, it’s hard to get through a summer without going to Union Pool. Sure, you’ve been there too many times to count, and usually too late into the night for anything particularly good to come of it - but that’s because, at the end of the day, this bar is a classic. The huge backyard has plenty of space, as well as its own bar and taco truck that serves until close. Everyone is generally always having a good time here, and you will too.
Lots of places have backyards, but Harlem Tavern has a huge front patio. It’s even larger than the inside space, and in the summertime it’s essentially just a big outdoor beer garden a few blocks from Central Park. So if you need a place to gather a group uptown and you might want to drink a strawberry daiquiri out of a mason jar, come here. If anyone gets hungry, there’s a huge menu of stuff like burgers, sandwiches, salmon, and fried chicken.
Threes Brewing is good for two kinds of people: those who like beer, and those who like summer. This is a brewery and bar with a great outdoor space full of two-tops and picnic tables where you can drink beers brewed on-site and eat food from The Meat Hook, like a double cheeseburger with raclette. There are always plenty of people here, but its location in the midst of brownstone Park Slope/Gowanus means you don’t have to worry about $18 Jack and Cokes or long waits to get in.
It doesn’t matter how old you are, or where you live, or whether you’ve had pizza twice already this week - going to L&B Spumoni and eating pizza and ice cream outside is one of the better things you can do with a summer Saturday. This place has a giant patio with a takeout window serving some of the most delicious pizza in the whole city. Order the Sicilian (it’s the closest thing to pizza lasagna we’ve ever eaten) and end your meal with their famous spumoni, knowing that you might end up falling asleep on the subway home.