There's something about eating outdoors that turns a summer dinner into an event, and Lexington loves to eat and drink outside.
"Lexington loves a patio. It's a patio town," says Seth Brewer, owner of Enoteca on Jefferson and Second streets. Last year, when the restaurant opened its patio and upstairs deck, the dining area in the treetops quickly became the most sought-after spot, he says.
"The patio fills up first. People like to have a vantage point. When you're up there, you can see down Jefferson Street, see the Grey Goose, Blue Heron next door," Brewer says. "It feels like you're in a clubhouse, a little spot that nobody knows how to get to. It feels VIP. It's been great for parties."
Likewise, Debbie Long at Dudley's on Short said that its rooftop garden is popular for dinner from spring into fall.
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"It's just so pleasant; kind of slows you down," Long says. "Everybody's always rushing, rushing, rushing. (Dining outdoors is) quieter, and it's relaxing and romantic."
Dudley's garden, designed by Jon Carloftis, features various plantings, depending on the time of year, highlighted by dramatic uplighting and, of course, candlelit tables.
Long says she's always watching the weather.
"You just try to adjust," she says. Diners are brought indoors if rain threatens. "These pop-up showers are the ones that get you. It's a challenge when the weather is questionable, but when it's a clear day and a beautiful night, there's nothing better."
Many restaurants with outdoor dining know they have to have a backup plan and have to be careful not to overbook seating, just in case.
Portofino Restaurant on Main Street also has a secluded courtyard dining area.
"Our clients love our patio, but it is strongly impacted by the weather, and not just rain," owner Wayne Masterman says. "Too warm, too humid, too much pollen or breeze are all a factor. Fortunately for us, there are function rooms that we can utilize to move people in if it does rain."
Merrick Inn, the classic outdoor dining spot in Lexington, has partially solved that problem: "Our main patio is covered, with a beautiful tin roof that you can hear the rain on," administrative assistant Nancy Owings says.
With its pool, tropical plants and fireplaces, Merrick's patio is so popular that diners fortunate to get a spot for dinner aren't put off by a little Southern humidity.
"Even when it's hot and muggy, people still sit out there," she says. "Because we have ceiling fans, it doesn't bother them."
One of the newest Lexington dining spots, the Pepper Distillery campus, has its own cooling feature: the tree-shaded Town Branch creek. Middle Fork Kitchen Bar, Ethereal Brewing and The Break Room bar all have seating by the water and will have fire pits for the fall.
"If I could, I'd have water and fire. Both are so attractive," Enoteca's Brewer says.
So what makes for a good outdoor atmosphere?
"Plants are crucial. And some live music, and design," he says. "It doesn't have to be earth-shattering, but make it interesting to look at and pleasant to be in, and people are going to want to be there."