About this time last year, I found myself standing huddled
under an umbrella, surveying the deserted beach of Praia do Carneiro in
Porto, Portugal. I had not made plans for the particular forecast I had been dealt: rain, rain and … rain. So, being a creature of superior ogling skills, I donned a sweater over my swimsuit and joined the best of the best in the great European pastime of The Patio Sit (aka drinking and people-watching.)
I like to think this is how visitors to Santa Fe feel as they fill up the patios around the Plaza, and on Canyon Road, enjoying the blue skies of spring, blithely eyeing Santa Fe's particular brand of local color.
But what about us locals? We enjoy the jump from our winter nests into the warm afternoon breezes just as much as any tourist, just not so much the crowds that bloom as fast as spring flowers. So I got to thinking about places a local might go to engage in this ancient art, without too much commotion.
OK, sure, Paloma (401 S Guadalupe St., 467-8624) is pretty much always packed—but the secret is its patio! This bright space tucked behind the restaurant will have you feeling as though you stepped off the street in Santa Fe and emerged somewhere in old Mexico. New takes on traditional folk arts cover the walls, and you'll find bright, traditional oilcloths on all the tables. The entire menu is available on the patio and Paloma's inspired sides (all $8) could have one believing they're in Oaxaca: roasted sweet potatoes with peanut salsa, toasted coconut and dried lime; crispy brussels sprouts with local honey, chipotle and sesame seeds; papas fritas with cotija and chipotle mayo. A favorite cocktail for long afternoons of sipping is the negroni Oaxaca ($11), refreshing despite the daring darkness of mezcal. A plus, Paloma offers happy hour from 5-6 pm, with $5 palomas and half-off bar snacks.
The patio outside Counter Culture Café (930 Baca St., 995-1105) borders a parking lot which, for some, may not sound like the pinnacle of patio
experiences, but this is easily overlooked once a cold beer and giant plate of food find their way to you. The area is shaded and dog-friendly, making it a great place to while away a couple hours with your (leashed) furry friend. Everyone is always happy here, and why shouldn't they be? The food is fresh, healthy and surprisingly affordable—the Asian plate, a split plate of fresh spring rolls and cold sesame noodles with salad, is just $10; an overstuffed tuna salad sandwich, with lettuce, tomato, red onion and sprouts could easily feed two or more for $8.50. Another plus for this patio is it's open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, allowing you to choose your time to sit back, relax and enjoy. Cash-only.
Rowley Farmhouse Ales (1405 Maclovia St., 428-0719) is constantly changing and improving its patio situation. Upon my last visit, the outdoor tenting had been replaced with a sturdy wood pergola covering a choice of four-tops and long, communal picnic tables. If you have a big crowd, this is a good spot to gather and sit together; if not, it's a great spot to chat it up with someone new. Dogs are allowed, and they are the best of conversation starters. Rowley has 24 draft choices, including its Great American Beer Festival-winning Germophile sour (4 ounces for $2, 10 ounces for $5) and 25 bottle/can options for beerphiles — everything from local producers and Rowley's own to exotic Europeans such as a 750 ml Fou' Foune Belgian lambic ($120). Rowley was recently crowned New Mexico's "Great American Beer Bar" by craftbeer.com, for the second year in a row. Props!
Far from the crowds of downtown, kids and dogs are welcome on the Tumbleroot Brewery and Distillery (2791 Agua Fria St., 780-5730) terraced back patio. Open at 4 pm during the week and noon on weekends, it's a great, casual spot to grab a bite, beer or booze. The play area is usually packed with little ones, and everyone benefits from the partial shade offered by its tall trees. Tumbleroot generally has 12 of its beers, and nearly as many of its spirits, available in the taproom. The kitchen dishes out tasty appetizers and mains, from a shaved beet salad ($9) with cucumber, apple and goat cheese to an elk bratwurst ($13) with fig mustard, caramelized onion and sauerkraut on a pretzel roll. If you've got family in town, or just a melting pot of peeps, it's a great place to spend an afternoon; especially if you need the kids to wear themselves out.
The expansive back patio at Harry's Roadhouse (96 Old Las Vegas Hwy., 989-4629) has a distinctly English garden feel to it, with spring flowers attracting hummingbirds, butterflies and fat, buzzing bees. This is one of those places where you don't feel like you're in New Mexico and can pretend you're somewhere else—a little mini-break, let's say. With the good weather, the patio is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner seven days a week, making it an ideal place to enjoy everything from a bubbly mimosa to one of Harry's famous margaritas. Another favorite is the breadth of food choices to pair with such libations: the menu spans worlds of cuisines, from tres leches french toast ($9.25) to fried
catfish with grits ($13.75).