The Cedar Hotel
If you're a wee-bit older, you probably remember this bustling beer garden as Melvin B's. But despite the new name, The Cedar Hotel still manages to pack a seasonal crowd for its cheap beer (well, at least for the Gold Coast) and cheeky drinks with hotel-inspired names, like the "suite" tea, a potent blend of Jeremiah Weed Sweet Tea vodka and lemonade. And yes, it's safe to say this garden is a bit of a pickup joint.
The Cedar Hotel, 1112 North State Street (at Cedar); 312-944-1112.
The Fireplace Inn
This sprawling BG still remains one of the most popular watering holes on the Wells Street strip — even with Benchmark in the 'hood. The space is covered by a retractable canopy, so you can even go in for a pint come winter. There's ample seating on all four sides of the large bar as well as cocktail tables, a rear dining area with tables more suitable for eating (a boneless rib sammy, perhaps?), and plenty of big-screen televisions for those looking to catch the latest game. Fun fact: It's hard to believe this garden used to be a parking lot!
The Fireplace Inn, 1448 North Wells Street (between Schiller Street and Burton Place); 312-664-5264.
If you're looking for something a bit more intimate, there's the adorable garden at Orso's (hello, old school!), which is also on Wells Street. A perfect date-night spot, the outdoor space features candlelight tables dressed with checkered tablecloths, twinkling Italian lights, foliage, and a commanding vintage-like, dark-wood bar. While they have an impressive menu of apps, salads, soups, pastas, and entrées, our pick is its old-school pizza. No-nonsense — just amazing, high-quality ingredients.
Orso's, 1401 North Wells Street (between Burton Place and Schiller Street); 312-787-6604.
We love how the spacious beer garden at Zella reminds us of a friend's backyard barbecue versus a college frat party. Keep this one in mind for the alternative garden experience: weekend brunch from 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. For just $28, you get your choice of entree (think smoked gravlax salmon, steak and eggs, omelets) and bottomless mimosas, Bloody Marys, Miller Lite, and Coors Light bottles.
Zella,1983 North Clybourn Avenue (between Racine Avenue Cortland Street ); 773-549-2910.
One of the last authentic German brauhauses in the city, Resi's Bierstube is one of the best places in town to grab a hefeweizen. Thanks to the authentic decor on the inside, you can probably find something different to fixate on with each visit. But while the weather is in our favor, the charming beer garden is the place to be. Large maple trees provide a respite from the sun during the day, while old-fashioned lanterns create a charming atmosphere at night. Eat your schnitzel (and drink your brew) at one of the picnic or plastic tables and chairs that grace the area. Prost!
Resi's Bierstube, 2034 West Irving Park Avenue (between Hoyne and Seeley avenues); 773-472-1749.
Photo: Courtesy of The Fireplace Inn