Spring has finally sprung, perhaps a little later than usual. The flowering trees are ablaze, with tulips pushing skyward in every unpaved patch of ground. So it’s time to play catch up with your al fresco dining agenda, and there are more ways to enjoy eating and drinking outdoors than you might have realized. Here are 29 suggestions — some predictable, some quirky — of ways to enjoy the beauty of nature (or at least an urban panorama) while consuming food, divided into six categories.
Open Air Beer Gardens
Somehow, suds and nature make a perfect pair, and the city offers some mighty picturesque beer gardens. Hint: Bring a gang to enjoy the discount on pitchers.
Bohemian Hall and Beer Garden — The foremost outdoor beer garden in the city was opened on a side street in Astoria in 1919 as part of a complex dedicated to the culture of the former Czechoslovakia. At picnic tables under the trees strung with lights, enjoy pitchers of beer and grilled-in-the-open-air hamburgers, bratwursts, and portobello mushroom sandwiches, as well as such Eastern European soul food as goulash, samzak (fried cheese), and roast duck. 2919 24th Ave, Queens, (718) 274-4925
The Standard Biergarten — Open late into the night, this raucous spot in the shadow of the High Line, in a hotel with a risqué reputation, may be your cup of tea. A full liquor license propels the crowd, and the food menu includes a fine selection of wursts and other charcuterie selected by chef Kurt Gutenbrunner. 848 Washington St, (212) 645-4100
Loreley — This Lower East Side fixture is perhaps the city’s most laid-back beer garden, especially in the afternoons. Seating is out back on wooden benches, with schnitzels and wursts holding down the German food theme and plenty of Teutonic suds on tap in liter steins. It's named after the rock upon which Rhine maidens lured passing sailors in the Heinrich Heine poem. 7 Rivington St, (212) 253-7077
Killmeyer’s Old Bavaria Inn — This 19th-century German inn and tavern is worth visiting on its own for the moose heads, carved wooden bar, and oompah band, but it comes alive in the late spring and summer when the backyard beer garden opens up. In such a remote corner of the borough (accessible by car and bus), it might as well be in Jersey. 4254 Arthur Kill Rd, Staten Island, (718)-984-1202
Greenwood Park — Once it was a gas station, now it’s an expansive outdoor beer garden steps away from the lush Green-Wood Cemetery, where the souls of Lola Montez, Leonard Bernstein, and Jean-Michel Basquiat take flight. Outdoor heat lamps help you push the season, a weekday happy hour lasts until 7 p.m., and the food is better than average for a beer garden (including Thumann’s franks and panko-breaded onion rings). 555 7th Ave, Brooklyn, (718) 499-7999
For a hyper-urban outdoor experience, nothing quite beats a city rooftop with the twinkling lights of skyscrapers on view — and the occasional wan star or planet. Tip: Download Google Skymaps to orient yourself astronomically.
Eataly — High up on the roof of the Eataly complex is an Italian version of a beer garden, with a retractable glass roof that opens to cooling night breezes. The lights of ancient Madison Square skyscrapers cast a yellowish glow. This summer, the decorative theme will be an Italian beach resort called Sabbia, with food, cocktails, and beach cabanas to match. 200 5th Ave, (212) 937-8910
Yotel — Hell’s Kitchen’s robot-friendly Yotel Hotel boasts one of the city’s nicest outdoor seating areas on the fourth floor. It has been under the control of several different bars and restaurants, but for now the terrace serves as the seating area for Green Fig, a new short-plate place featuring the cuisine of North Africa. 570 10th Ave, (646) 449-7790
230 Fifth Rooftop Bar — This yuppie haven offers outdoor spaces on two levels, cocktails and bottle service, and a comfort food menu that runs to guacamole, wontons, and a prime rib cheesesteak sandwich. But the lovely space overlooking Madison Square is the star of the show. 230 5th Ave, (212) 725-4300
Salvation Taco — Skip the restaurant’s ground floor and ride the elevator to the restaurant’s Murray Hill rooftop (a/k/a Pod 39 Rooftop), where a limited menu, strong mixed drinks, and views of the surrounding pre-war apartments with terraces are the lures. At least the ice water is free. 145 E 39th St, (212) 865-5800
There is no more glorious way to enjoy the outdoors than in a funky backyard behind a restaurant, far away from street noises and the invidious gazes of passersby. Here are some of our favorites.
A.O.C. — This long-running French cafe boasts a trellised backyard that’s one of the best places for outdoor dining in the West Village. The menu mimics a Parisian bistro, including a pleasant petit dejeuner, lunchtime quiches and sandwiches, and the expected dinner offerings, from tuna tartare to frisee aux lardons to mussels provencales. 314 Bleecker St, (646) 963-9579
Baci & Abbracci — Now 10 years old, this Grand Street pioneer puts together a crowd-pleasing menu of wood-oven pizzas, apps, pastas, and secondi cheaper and better than you might have expected. The signature pie combines smoked mozzarella, pancetta, and caramelized onions on a nicely charred crust. Pastas can get a bit kinky, but even eating a shoe would be enjoyable in this Williamsburg backyard. 204 Grand St, Brooklyn, (718) 599-6599
Neptune — Let’s face it, even in summer you sometimes want some Easter European comfort food, things like pierogi, blintzes, fried cutlets, and goulash, with two scoops of potatoes, please. Find this sort of fare and a delicious backyard setting at old-timer Neptune. Once there were dozens of Polish and Ukrainian places like this in the East Village. 194 1st Ave, (212) 777-4163
Anella — If you want to feel like you’re in Italy, drop by Anella’s flower-bedecked backyard some summer evening, far enough north on Greenpoint’s Franklin Street to feel like you’re on the frontier. The fare runs to charcuterie served with homemade pickles, burrata with shaved asparagus and beets, and such perfect pastas as bucatini carbonara. 222 Franklin St, Brooklyn, (718) 389-8100
Houdini Kitchen Laboratory — This grandiosely named pizzeria on the border between Bushwick and Ridgewood turns out some amazing pies and then serves them on the airy outdoor loading dock of what used to be a brewery. Not much else on the menu, which comes as something of a relief. Houdini’s grave is not far away. 1563 Decatur St, Queens, (718) 456-3770
Rio Grande — This Murray Hill old-timer has two sides covering an entire city block, one called Mexico and the other, Texas. Each has its own expansive outdoor patio, and you can find a table on one or the other most times. Stick with fajitas and beer (avoid the margaritas), and you’ll have a pleasant experience. 160 E 38th St, (212) 867-0922
Sidewalk cafes are usually small relative to the size of a restaurant, and scoring a table can be difficult. Try calling ahead in the unlikely event outdoor tables may be reserved, or contrive to arrive early, soon after the place opens. Or go to a street with multiple sidewalk cafes (Hudson Street and 7th Avenue South in the West Village; Amsterdam and Columbus avenues on the Upper West Side) and stroll around until you find an available seat at one place or another.
Morgan’s BBQ — Channeling Austin, Texas, Morgan’s spills tables out onto a corralled area out front right on Flatbush Avenue. In addition to the usual oak-smoked pork ribs, pulled pork, brisket, and turkey, you’ll find great Texas-style chili and Frito pie. Open till midnight or later. 267 Flatbush Ave, Brooklyn, (718) 622 2224
Rosemary’s — If you can manage to drop by this West Village gem (whose signature dishes include octopus salame, linguine with preserved lemon and chile flakes, and homemade burrata) for breakfast or lunch on a weekday, an outdoor table with views of the Jefferson Market Library can be yours. But the open-windowed architecture of the place guarantees that anywhere you’re seated, you’ll enjoy the outdoors. Take a stroll in the rooftop garden between courses. 18 Greenwich Ave, (212) 647-1818
Piccolo Café — There’s plenty of sidewalk seating at this popular Upper West Side Italian spot, which specializes in slightly off-price apps and pastas of high quality, and offers a dinner special that includes a glass of wine on weekday evenings. Head for the grilled entrees of meat and fish, some with a Greek twist. 313 Amsterdam Ave, (212) 873-0962
L & B Spumoni Gardens — With a huge collection of picnic tables, some exposed to the elements and others in a tented pavilion, L & B (founded in 1939 in Gravesend) offers three eateries to choose from. Get upside-down Sicilian sheet pizza, baked pastas and heroes, or water ices and gelato — including the eponymous spumoni. 2725 86th St, Brooklyn, (718) 449-1230
Agnanti — One of the city’s better Greek cafes offers tables on the sidewalk under an awning, furnishing tree-intensive views of Astoria Park. Grilled sardines and swordfish kebabs are especially good, and one could make an entire meal of mezze like baked saganaki cheese, zucchini croquettes, and Greek sausage poached in red wine. 19-06 Ditmars Blvd, Queens, (718) 545-4554
Stone Street — Boasting several establishments that crowd the colonial-era cobblestones with outdoor tables, a short stretch of Stone Street in far-downtown Manhattan furnishes a pleasing choice of bars and cafes. Our faves include gastropub Ulysses (95 Pearl St, 212-482-0400), where you’ll find a fine raw-oyster service, and lush pizzeria Adrienne’s (54 Stone St, 212-248-3838).
Picnics in the Park
Why not avoid restaurant eating entirely, with its attendant expenses and time limitations, and have a meal at your own pace in one of the city’s great (and sometimes under-visited) parks. Here are some of the city’s best green spaces, each matched with a nearby, inexpensive carryout location.
Inwood Hill Park — This hilly and mountainous park at the northernmost tip of Manhattan was once a 19th-century resort, with the carriageways and footpaths still intact, but crumbling. Seek out the Indian caves or the famous hole in the fence, which offers spectacular views across the Hudson River to the New Jersey Palisades. Carry out sandwiches from Broadyke Meat Market (4767 Broadway, 212-569-3470) or tacos and quesadillas from Tom & Gus Luncheonette (634 West 207th St, 212-942-0679).
Lincoln Terrace Park — Just off Eastern Parkway in Crown Heights, this large urban park — which looks like the crater of a large meteor — is the perfect place for a spectacular picnic. Spread your blanket in a field of dandelions (the leaves are edible) and carry out from a nearby Jamaican restaurant with the poetic name of Ah Yah Suh Nice (258 Buffalo Ave, Brooklyn, 718-483-9393), where the curried chicken served with rice ‘n’ peas and steamed cabbage is particularly good.
Clove Lakes Park — Easy to get to by bus or bike from the ferry dock, this Staten Island park boasts hiking trails, dramatic rock outcroppings, a formal garden, designated barbecuing areas, and three interconnected bodies of water: Brooks Lake, Martling Lake, and Clove Lake (names vary according to which map you happen to be looking at). Near the northeast side of the park opposite Martling Lake find Casa Chonita (490 Broadway, Staten Island, 718- 447-1960), a little Mexican carryout spot with exceptional tortas and burritos — perfect picnic stuff.
Central Park — Do you like angling, or want to give it a try? In the northeast corner of Central Park, Harlem Meer is stocked with bluegills and brown trout, with a catch-and-release program in place. Free fishing equipment is loaned at the Charles A. Dana Discovery Center (call 212-860-1370 for details) on the north side of the lake. Beforehand, grab a hero sandwich or carryout container of Chinese food at Steak and Hoagies (1657 Madison Ave, 917-492-5001)
Prospect Park — How about an urban barbecue? Prospect Park offers multiple areas where outdoor cooking is permitted, some already outfitted with crude, pole-top barbecue units that facilitate grilling but not smoking. Around the bandshell and at the northern end of Long Meadow are popular spots. Bring your own small smoker and charcoal to be sure (available at most hardware stores). Here is a list of the areas that permit barbecuing.
Let’s face it, there’s nothing quite as good a eating in the open air with a view of the water, and New York is unique in the length of its coastline, on rivers, estuaries, lakes, and the ocean. And if seafood is also involved, all the better.
Nick’s Lobster House — Founded in 1955, and located on a stretch of Flatbush Avenue you’ve probably never laid eyes on, Nick’s boasts a wooden deck right on Mill Basin, with a view of houses on stilts right across the water. It’s the closest thing NYC has to a Maine Lobster pound, but with Sicilian seafood standards added. 2777 Flatbush Ave, Brooklyn, (718) 253-7117
Clemente's Maryland Crab House — Meanwhile, Clemente’s is Brooklyn’s facsimile Maryland crab shack, in a difficult-to-find location on Shellback Creek, technically located in Sheepshead Bay. Freshly steamed crabs are served by the bucket, with wooden mallets and plastic bibs. Mondays and Tuesdays are all-you-can-eat nights. 3939 Emmons Ave, Brooklyn, (718) 646-7373
Pier i Café — The spectacular setting is the lure here, with panoramic views of the Hudson River, a pier that sticks like a finger into the river, and bike rentals nearby. The food is better than you’d expect, and won’t cost you an arm and a leg, with good hamburgers and lobster rolls, and a large selection of salads. 500 W 70th St, (212) 362-4450