Summer’s late arrival has made Port’s outdoor dining spots less idyllic
With the exception of a few sparkling days, summer has been late in arriving in Port Washington.
Nowhere is the capricious nature of our climate more apparent than at the many outdoor dining options that line the streets of downtown.
While thoughts of savoring a favorite meal while reveling in the summer breezes is appealing, the setting is a much harder sell when nearby Lake Michigan generates chilly air and lingering fog.
More than a dozen outside dining options are available in Port on a seasonal basis, but much of that seating has remained empty for long stretches of recent months.
“When the weather is nice, our customers really like the outside dining area we created,” said John Neitzke, manager of Beanie’s Mexican Restaurant and Cantina, 102 W. Grand Ave.
“We were especially busy over the holiday weekend and always draw people on Sundays when there is live music.”
However, Neitzke said, Mother Nature is the determining factor in how desirable the outside tables are.
“When that wind starts blowing off the lake, there aren’t many people interested in the outside tables,” he said.
The outdoor dining area is open from Memorial Day to Labor Day, depending on weather, although sidewalk tables are always available.
The most prominent feature of The Patio Bar & Grill, 601 N. Wisconsin St., is — appropriately enough — its sprawling patio with 20 tables.
“We can easily serve 100 people outside, and we came pretty close to reaching that number one Friday this year,” owner Al “Junior” Uselding said.
That seating capacity has largely been theoretical so far this summer, Uselding said.
“To say the lousy weather has affected our business would be an understatement. Our outside service is way down. Last year was bad, and this year has been worse still,” he said.
Uselding offered a prescription for the ailing outdoor dining picture.
“What we could really use is a nice stretch of weather in the 70s with low humidity and no rain. The umbrellas on the tables do a nice job of protecting people from the sun but they don’t do much good when it is raining and the wind is blowing,”
He said the restaurant doesn’t go by the calendar when determining whether to set up the outdoor tables.
“We have outdoor dining from when it gets warm to when it turns cold, but this is Port Washington, so there is no way of telling when that will be,” Uselding said.
The option of outdoor dining is perhaps the greatest appeal of grabbing a bite to eat at Dockside Deli, 218 E. Main St., which overlooks Port’s north slip.
“Pretty much as soon as the weather is tolerable, people like to sit at our outside tables and enjoy the lake view,” owner Kim Buczek said.
That choice may require a jacket or sweatshirt some days, but Buczek said customers often find the lure of fresh-air dining too much to resist.
“We bring in our tables when it starts to get cold, but there is always seating available under the awning for those who really want to be outside,” she said.
The staff at the Chocolate Chisel, 125 W. Grand Ave., has no complaints about the weather and its affect on customers enjoying Sassy Cow ice cream outdoors.
“Our customers are from hardy, Wisconsin stock. Their thought is, if it is summer, they are going to enjoy their ice cream outside, no matter what,” manager Elizabeth MacCrimmon said.
Lines of customers are a routine sight outside the treat shop, which offers expanded hours from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. in summer.
“We have a bench outside year round and add lawn furniture when the weather is nicer. It is so popular, we even have customers who bring blankets and stretch out on the neighbor’s lawn on the weekends,” MacCrimmon said.
To augment the outdoor dining experience, the shop offers a ready bowl of water for visiting dogs along with free dog treats.
“Part of the appeal is that people can’t really take their dogs anywhere else in Port to eat, but they can bring their dogs here for ice cream,” MacCrimmon said.
“Adding ice cream was one of the best decisions we have ever made. People come to get ice cream in the middle of winter and say it is their way of keeping summer alive.”
Image information: PORT WASHINGTON OFFERS more than a dozen opportunities to dine outdoors, although the options have had limited appeal with the late arrival of summer. Above, diners at Beanie’s Mexican Restaurant and Cantina saw their meal as a photo opportunity. At lower left, the Chocolate Chisel has served treats to a steady stream of customers regardless of the weather. Lower right, during many recent evenings, the outdoor tables at The Patio Bar & Grill have gone largely unused. Photos by Mark Jaeger