Party under the stars 

Patio bars provide the perfect marriage of cocktails and moonlight

Whatever happened to the verandas and gazebos of the past? When did we stop moving at the speed of a drawl? Atlanta is a city with drive -- drive to expand, to improve and to, well, drive. And those are some long drags we're driving. The problem is that the thing driving us to what's newer and bigger often drives us away from what's better. There are places in Atlanta where you don't have to be isolated on four wheels to feel worlds away. There are chiseled nooks and crannies amid the towers of Midtown, or reclaimed corners in local neighborhoods in which to nestle down with a crisp, cold cocktail under the open sky. Places where seeing the stars of stage and screen come second to seeing the stars high above once the smog has dissipated into dusk. These are the patios of Atlanta, and CL celebrates but a handful offering more to drink in than just the bar.

Little Five Points and Virginia-Highland have long offered drinking on the deck -- the bustling Brewhouse, lively Neighbor's, the wee alley beside Atkins Park. But Midtown has propelled lush, lascivious libations back from behind closed doors to the courtyard of Loca Luna and the catcalls -- OK, woofs -- on the back deck at Backstreet. But the club that brought the trend back vividly into the open was eleven50 when it opened its adjoining plush patio, Eden, where daybeds and banquettes bridge glistening pools to provide plenty of seating for those not compelled by the sumptuous sounds. Eden definitely lives up to its name, but watch out for those green apple martinis.

If you can tear yourself away from Eden, the Crescent Avenue-12th Street district in general is prime patio territory. Right across the street, The Crescent Room offers a small courtyard once you navigate through the depths of subterranean sophistication. Walking along the avenue, stop to savor a martini (generous, with accompanying sidecar) on the brick patio at Vickery's. On Sunday, the bloody Mary bar on Front Page News' New Orleans-style patio is a tradition. Around the corner, stretch out in the Leopard Lounge's plush patio furnishings. A block over, pick up a drink and strut between the chic Cosmopolitan and the slinky Lava Lounge, depending on whether you'd like to socialize on the open-air deck that spans the two or fraternize on the basement dancefloor. Those looking for a twirl of a different kind can find it in a glass of wine on the roof deck of Vinocity. For a complete reprieve, hop over to 14th Street to the Four Seasons' Park 75, where you can sip a mint julep on the terrace flanked by the towers of Midtown.

If you think Midtown is like a Monet -- great from afar but just a bunch of messy splotches massed together up close -- the deck at Blu/Wetbar offers plenty of pumping house music, buff shirtless men and a superb view of downtown from mere blocks off Midtown's main drag. Or for yet a different view of Midtown, from the burgeoning West Side, Commune's Onyx Bar offers one of the metropolitan area's best cityscape views. If you can tear yourself away from the vampy interior, grab a gingerpine cosmo, cantaloupe martini or some sparkling Shiraz and cherish the sights.

Not far off from Onyx Bar is the city's latest high-concept, high-stakes undertaking, Compound. Boasting a reportedly multimillion-dollar renovation, Compound gleams with pearlescent poise. But what most people notice first is the sculpted patio just inside the entrance. It comes complete with a reflecting pool, a rock garden, a blue-lit bridge that occasionally billows fog, and a mobile bar attached to the back of an ATV. The place is crawling with the far too fashion-conscious and curiosity seekers, but it will be fascinating to see what the club does with special events. For now, while the weather is gorgeous, all is Zen within the garden.

A little further up the road in Buckhead, Electra offers a Grey Goose martini patio replete with retro-futuristic furnishings. For those looking less for sleek lines and more for timeworn comfort, the Treehouse is like an old friend with a bucket of brews, and perhaps a burger and fries. While Treehouse offers microbrews, the place to get a small-batch brew and some sun -- as well as a tasty meal -- is a little further up Roswell Road to Five Seasons Brewing Company in Sandy Springs.

But wait, here's a little food for thought: Some of the nicest patio bars are restaurant bars. The Inman Park Patio offers creative fruit-forward cocktails and a pleasing wine list along with Mediterranean cuisine. MidCity Cuisine sees cocktails as another arena of culinary art, utilizing limited-run infused vodkas to complement the chef's signature dishes. For long nights of longnecks, getting fried and eating fried foods, Cabbagetown offers 97 Estoria and, in the transition to Grant Park, Six Feet Under, which features a rooftop deck that overlooks Historic Oakland Cemetery.

There are just so many great places to sit, watch the cars go by and wonder where the heck all those people are going when they could be stretched out on one of any number of prime patios, sipping a cocktail in the cool evening breeze.

tony.ware@creativeloafing.com

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