Milwaukee’s Best Restaurant Patios

These restaurant patios are not only killer spots for enjoying summer. Afoodionados will be appeased, too.

Plus: Here’s the Readers’ Choice 2016 results for Best Summer Patios

Harbor House

The New England-inspired fish house keeps the 120-seat, partially shaded brick patio a skosh shielded from Lake Michigan wind gusts that send diners running indoors. The full HH water-world menu is patio ready. And good aural news: Live music (jazz, bluegrass or acoustic) filters the air Sunday-Monday nights, 4-7 p.m. (550 N. Harbor Drive, 414-395-4900)

Devon Seafood + Steak

A shopping mall patio? Oh, yeah. The patio is all business on the table side, party on the relaxing, cushioned couches-and-coffee-table side. Plus, they make a mean seafood mixed grill. (Bayshore Town Center, 5715 N. Bayshore Drive, 414-967-9790)

Cafe Benelux Patio
The rooftop deck at Cafe Benelux

Stubby’s Gastrogrub & Beer Bar

The sweet news about Milwaukee River dining is how the vibe changes up and down the river, from the Third Ward to the East Side. At the point it reaches Stubby’s, the river is framed by foliage, and the handsome pergola-covered deck jutting out from the side of this foamed establishment feels surprisingly intimate. Plus, an impressive local beer selection is found here. (2060 N. Humboldt Ave., 414-763-6324)

Stubby's Gastrobgrub & Beer Bar
Stubby’s Gastrobgrub & Beer Bar: Another meeting of
beer and pedals; photo by Chris Kessler


Food tastes better at higher elevation. Make that argument from the 18 seats under the stars on this cozy model of rooftop patios, the Cream City brick and accent wood coupling with strings of lights to create a nighttime glow. (1101 S. Second St., 414-212-8843)

The Yard at the Iron Horse Hotel

The Large Marge of patios is spread out in various seating configurations – library and bistro tables and cushioned sectionals – under shades cut from sails. The menu is similar to that of the Iron Horse bar Branded, whose fixings include charcuterie and cheese boards, poutine and a handful of sandwiches. The Yard hibernates during winter and serves as parking for the Iron Horse Hotel. But after Memorial Day, it blossoms into an expansive patio that is ground zero for cocktail enthusiasts, scene-sters and informed out-of-towners. An expertly made Manhattan pairs nicely with one of The Yard’s cozy outdoor couches. Ample seating, a fair amount of shade from large fabric sails and a great cocktail list make the limited outdoor drinking season at the Iron Horse special. (500 W. Florida St., 414-374-4766)

The Yard at The Iron Horse Hotel. Photo via Facebook.

The Knick

This classic front terrace, raised a few steps from the sidewalk facing the Knickerbocker on the Lake, is a beguiling mix of intimate and exposed. See and be seen; listen to the sounds of summer wafting from the lakefront nearby. You’ll appreciate the outdoor heaters more often than you’d think. (1030 E. Juneau Ave., 414-272-0011)

La Merenda

Take it outside, will ya? Gladly. The patio you’d want at home, if you fed people for a living. A raised, rectangular dining area and bar, shaded by a pergola, and a couple of steps down, a loungy garden area with a stone fireplace. Cozy. (125 E. National Ave., 414-389-0125)

Photo courtesy of Pizza Man

Pizza Man

The retractable roof turns the second floor into a skylight oasis letting in summer’s best assets while diners turn their attention to fried onion strings, meatball pizzas and bottles of vino. An uncovered second-floor porch is for star-gazing and Downer Avenue pedestrian-watching. (2597 N. Downer Ave., 414-272-1745)


Cafe Hollander and Cafe Bavaria

These downtown Wauwatosa siblings and neighbors have contiguous outdoor dining/drinking areas (Hollander’s weaves a path over the Menomonee River), which gives off the balm of European city Gemütlichkeit. Belgian- and German-style beers are their respective claims to fame, and foam is the reason you’ll find nary an empty table on a warm summer night. (7677 W. State St., 414-475-6771; 7700 Harwood Ave., 414-271-7700)


Heated and enclosed, because you never know what a Milwaukee summer will bring, this tried-and-true space has the intimacy of someone’s personal backyard. But the linens and tableware say “dinner party.” (2499 N. Bartlett Ave., 414-964-8377)

Cafe Benelux bierCafe Benelux

The sun descends behind brick warehouses. It could be the first line of a novel. It’s also one of the best times to be here. Lowlands Group outfitted the roof of this corner Third Ward restaurant with equipage befitting its hip Euro theme, but it can’t take credit for the view. Café Benelux boasts one of the finest rooftop dining and drinking areas – day or night. During the sunny hours, Benelux is a hot spot for family lunches, business meetings (or escapes from the office) and casual hangouts. By nightfall, it hums with the type of excitement that only summer nights can bring, as you take in the glow of the city lights. Truth be told, it’s a great post-show bar if you’re coming from downtown at the Pabst or Riverside Theaters, because not only is the distance reasonable, but it also provides a relaxing environment in which to unwind after seeing your favorite band live for the first time. Wait, did I forget to mention their 40-page beer menu called “The Bier Book” that is reissued with new beers each month? Maybe I need not say any more. (3464 N. Broadway, 414-501-2500)

The Harp

The back deck at The Harp Irish Pub has been the site of late-afternoon “meetings” for years. Understandably so. The tiered wooden structure is festive and awash in sunlight on a clear day. Big boats, little boats and rowing shells all drift by. It’s hard not to wonder if the crews on even the nicest boats on the river are a little jealous of the Harp patrons who’ve commandeered valuable deck space. (113 E. Juneau Ave.)

Jackson’s Blue Ribbon Pub

The eerie sensation of being immersed in a ghost town washes over you while downing a PBR on the large outdoor patio at Jackson’s Blue Ribbon Pub. It’s the massive Building 25 across the street that provides the ambiance. The old Pabst malt house looms in the background, a no-longer-empty empty remnant of Milwaukee’s brewing history and a decidedly cool monolith to have in view. (1203 N. 10th St.)

Ugly’s Pub

Activity on Third Street used to taper off at Highland Avenue, but the popular strip has recently extended its reach to Juneau Avenue. The second-floor rooftop at Ugly’s Pub offers a full rectangular bar, wood flooring, plenty of tables, delicious truffle fries and heaters – for when summer refuses to act like summer – to ensure that you’re well-equipped to oversee the nightlife renaissance taking place below.  (1125 N. Old World Third St.)

Image courtesy of Ugly’s Pub.

Romans’ Pub

The beer garden at Romans’ Pub  isn’t about great scenery, unless you’re a beer nut staring lovingly at your glass. The cozy backyard deck is shielded from busy Kinnickinnic Avenue by a tall, wooden fence, but the brews are what people come here for. The 30ish taps are well-chosen by owner Mike Romans, and rarities are plentiful. A summer night in Mike’s backyard with a great beer (or a few) is never a bad idea. (3475 S. Kinnickinnic Ave.)

The Ruby Tap

The Ruby Tap’s patio, overlooking a quietish, angled block, is a casual place to sip slowly on the wine bar’s wine-on-tap offerings and its 32 varieties of vine juice-via-machine. One of the patio’s best attributes, though, is its proximity to the adjacent Yo Mama! frozen yogurt. Or, as we call it, the perfect summer night. (1341 Wauwatosa Ave., Wauwatosa)

Ruby Tap wine bar in Wauwatosa

Taylor’s People’s Park

Those who don’t live there may not realize that downtown Waukesha is, well, cool. Taylor’s People’s Park is the crown jewel in an area filled with hidden gems. The view across Main of the stone Almont Building (built in 1857) and ornate Queen Anne-style Nickell Building (built in 1901) is worth the trip west, but a tasty brunch and a full rooftop bar serving a long list of cocktails doesn’t hurt. Get there early. The 10 tables are popular real estate. (337 W. Main St., Waukesha)



Ann Christenson has covered dining for Milwaukee Magazine since 1997. She was raised on a diet of casseroles that started with a pound of ground beef and a can of Campbell's soup. Feel free to share any casserole recipes with her.