Nature Calls

Humans long ago declared victory in our long struggle to overcome the forces of nature. We spray on tans, burn Duraflame logs, flash huge CZ rings and dine on farm-raised salmon.

Of course, our old foe never really accepted defeat and still threatens humankind on occasion with harmless little pinpricks, such as Hollywood's Twister or melting polar ice caps--but no matter. We won, and we must celebrate.

In Dallas, that means dinner or a few drinks on the patio at our favorite nightspot. And this time of year, every patio or rooftop or balcony is packed to capacity. People overflow the massive outdoor space at Duke's in Addison, enjoying a fine view of the equally massive Sam's Club parking lot. On Tuesdays, patrons spill from Primo's tiny sidewalk area into the street. On Sundays at Blue Goose, inebriates sit in the shade and watch an endless stream of traffic pass on Greenville Avenue.

"In Europe, tables are usually on streets where people are walking by," says Christiano Conti, general manager of Arcodoro & Pomodoro. "Here we don't have the pedestrians."

With rare exception, most Dallas-area patios overlook parking lots or busy streets--not exactly the same thing as sitting outside on the Grand Place in Brussels. Automobiles are our version of pedestrian traffic. Instead of 18th-century architecture, we contemplate acres of asphalt as we sip our drinks.

So why are patios popular?

"You lose the kitchen noise, the bar noise and the other distractions of being inside," ponders Philip, drinking at Sense, an indoor destination. He concedes that an evening on a patio along Greenville provides plenty of distractions as well. "But on Greenville, the attraction is being part of the noise."

It may be as simple as that--being part of a scene. Matthew, poet laureate of Dallas nightlife and bartender at Passport, contends that people in Dallas aren't seeking an experience when they visit an establishment. "They're just looking for a crowd." The see-and-be-seen aspect of Dallas culture has been widely reported, and many observers attribute the popularity of outdoor drinking and dining to our apparent need to preen. "It's the $30,000 millionaires who want to be seen," says Alun, whom we also encountered drinking at Sense. "That's what Dallas is."

"You can put up with traffic, car fumes and everything just on the chance that someone you know will drive by and see you," agrees Kenny Daniel, bartender at Primo's.

Yet to others, patios merely offer a change of pace from the ordinary. "We sit in an office all day long," explains Marissa, whom we bumped into at Arcodoro & Pomodoro. "It's just nice to get out." Most of us spend our time in air-conditioned comfort, traipsing from home to the car to the office to the mall. Last year, when the Burning Question crew spent a few days in London, a British friend tried to dissuade us from purchasing a really cool pair of suede boots by reminding us of the dirt kicked up by a day trudging the sidewalks. "Nobody walks in Dallas," we said, laughing, "except at the Galleria." So a few hours outdoors, soaking under misters with a drink in hand, is a respite from drudgery.

For bars and restaurants, a well-populated patio means something more than a break from the routine or the opportunity to interact with the pretentious set. "When it's hot outside, people drink more," says Brian McCullough, bartender at Republic. "That's the reason to have a patio." Bar and restaurant managers report that people linger for more extended periods when seated on the patio, ordering--and spending--in greater quantities. And their presence serves as a kind of advertisement to crowd-seekers.

"People on Greenville see the crowd up there when they pass by, and it draws their attention," says Tara Paulsen, bartender at Mike's Treehouse, referring to the rooftop patio.

Arcodoro & Pomodoro studded their outdoor space with rosemary, olive trees and other Italian touches. Dragonfly sealed its deck from the parking area with a stone wall and built in other attractions, such as a swimming pool. The Gingerman provides a backyard feel, complete with picnic tables and a wooden privacy fence. Ozona and Thomas Avenue Beverage Company provide pleasant spaces as well. Most patios, however, offer nothing more than traffic or asphalt.

To answer this week's Burning Question: Patios appeal to our need to break, occasionally, from the routine, our people-watching instincts and the shallow traits associated with Dallas nightlife. "You mix the weather with the superficial," says Alex, a woman we spoke with at Sense. "You watch people, what they're wearing and driving, and you can see it all while you're drinking."

Simply put, drinking outside is fun. Why else would anyone see a Rangers game?

For bars and restaurants, patios represent income. "It could be seasonal, it could be a trend," says TABC bartender Toby Webster. "It doesn't really matter as long as people keep coming."

And, after all, what's the point of winning a war if you can't profit from it?


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