Screw five. It’s 4:16 on a Thursday afternoon and I’m drinking a can of Modelo Especial, a cute slice of lime tucked beneath the tab. Rectangular, century-old buildings rest across the street; downtown’s more modern glass-and-concrete structures keep watch a few blocks ahead.
I’m on the patio at El Camino and life is good.
To call it a patio, though, seems almost disingenuous – it’s more of a miniature corral separated from the sidewalk by brushed metal poles, like an open-air cage you’d rather not leave. A basketball team would be cramped drinking here, but if the option was either five more feet of brick and mortar or extending the restaurant and bar into the sunshine, El Camino made the right call. The only audio accompaniment is provided by the conversation on the patio and by traffic – the oddly soothing woosh of buses and honks of cars, the cicadas of the rush-hour city.
During happy hour, El Camino offers Tecate, Corona, Modelo, Lone Star, well drinks, and shots of El Toro for only $2, as well as $4 Palomas. Get your favorites. Drink them all.
The bartender wanders out, says she wishes she could join in the afternoon session, and hands off another beer. A heavily tattooed man in a shirt with cutoff sleeves, a pointed beard, and mirrored glasses wanders by and asks – “Is this the bar I was just in?” Yes?
Address: 238 S Fourth St.
A fountain gushes against a stone wall at the far end while a menagerie of big glass bulbs hangs just out of reach. This patio feels like a wood-walled grotto with the top ripped away. Women at a table near the back smell of perfume, and a guy nearby smokes a cigarette while he clears plates. He half-finishes then walks away to continue drinking and messing with his phone. It’s unclear if he’s an employee. Today’s not for work anyway.
It’s 5:28 and there’s three-quarters of a Ballast Point Fathom India Pale Lager sitting on the crosshatched wrought-iron table. A chalk rendering of Jim Belushi oversees the scene from Yellow Brick’s rear wall. It’s still happy hour, which runs Monday through Friday from 4 to 7 p.m. and offers $2 wells, $1-off wines and meads, and two dozen half-priced specialty drafts.
The patio is cozy while being spacious enough to hold 10 tables, two benches, and a rustic metal fire pit, the whole space bordered on three sides by rooftops and a metal walkway. Four tables are occupied by people embracing the July-hot sun and the never-ending blue. “That sun feels goooood,” a woman at the back says.
The hum of downtown is swallowed by John Lennon and Cream. “I’ve been waiting so long / to be where I’m going / in the sunshine of your lo-oo-oo-oo-oo-ve,” Jack Bruce and Eric Clapton sing. “Nobody told me there’d be days like these!” counters Lennon. A jetliner streaks upward at an 80-degree angle, aiming right for that sun. Bon voyage, Icarus, you silly bastard. We’re keeping all the fun on the ground today.
Address: 892 Oak St.
It’s six-something-or-other, and I have no idea if it’s happy hour anymore. I’m happy and drinking so who cares. The deep blonde hue of Seventh Son’s own Golden Ratio IPA dips just past the flowery white stenciling on the pint glass. The front patio is washed in shade; the packed rear patio squints into sunlight. The sky has grown clotted with wispy clouds that resemble eviscerated cotton balls.
Aromaku’s food truck pees a little stream of water into the full parking lot. Planters line the quartet of picnic tables that constitute the front patio, which offers a clear view through to the back – a fenced-in set of parallel communal tables, tiny bulbs strung overhead. The lights are like April holiday decorations awaiting dusk, a fitting motif for a bar celebrating its one-year anniversary. Between the two oases, the garage-style taproom serves eight or so potent craft beers from the brewery one room over.
We’re all at the corner of Fourth and Fourth, a place that seems like it shouldn’t exist. The whole block smells of construction and looks like a mixture of a pastoral scene from a Sherwood Anderson novel and a photo of a newly inhabited urbanscape, brimming with life and framed by roughhewn edges.
There are two men moving through the crowd, one wearing a sleeveless parka and the other a checkered blue-and-red blazer, like someone threw a party and invited half the patrons from Sundance and the other half from the Kentucky Derby. A man wipes a morsel of food off the face of a woman across the table from him; a food truck worker navigates the patio, calling out names with his hands full of Styrofoam containers; a man on the corner in a bright orange knit cap laughs, doubles over, slaps his hands together, and points at the cars as they whiz by.
Patio season is here. It’s time to drink and dance.
Address: 1101 N Fourth St.