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Photograph by Rachel Robinson

Summer Reveries: At the Cantina in Santa Rosa, a cool margarita can waken the senses.

Doing It Outdoors

Summer is for finding places to drink outside

By Davina Baum and Sara Bir

It's summer, long evenings lie ahead, and the urge to sit outside for a cool beer or glass of wine is the most natural thing in the world. Herewith, a few of our favorites.

Sonoma Plaza
The DIY way to drink al fresco. There are a number of shops on the Plaza--Sonoma Wine Exchange and Sonoma Cheese Factory, for instance--where cold beer and wine are available (remember to bring your corkscrew or bottle opener, though). Then set up your picnic, beach towel, or whatever, and watch as the tourists parade in front of you. Heck, be a tourist yourself. Between Spain and Napa streets at Highway 12, Sonoma.

Swiss Hotel
For those craving more formal social outings, there are also plenty of establishments facing the Sonoma Plaza or just off the plaza where a little cafe table with a tea light ups the amenities a bit. The Swiss Hotel, a California Historical Landmark housed in a structure built for General Vallejo in 1850, has been in operation since 1909. The full-service restaurant serves Italian food, but in fine weather, just as many people stop in for a glass of wine at its prime sidewalk-seating location. There's also a garden patio for a more secluded setting. 18 W. Spain St., Sonoma. 707.938.2884.

Murphy's Irish Pub
Enjoy a solid selection of British beers on tap with cozy outdoor seating on summer evenings in a hidden niche just off the Sonoma Plaza. On many nights, you can catch live folk, blues, and jazz (that's if you are sitting inside, though). Come with an appetite for fish and chips with mushy peas. 464 First St., Sonoma. 707.935.0660.

Sonoma-Meritâge
Its lovely, secluded patio sits hidden from all of downtown Sonoma's bustle--and because there is no downtown Sonoma bustle in the evening, it's a trés romantic spot at night, especially if you are toasting with one of Meritâge's sparkling wine cocktails. If you start feeling peckish, get a glass of white wine and a celebratory seafood platter. 522 Broadway, Sonoma. 707.938.9430.

Willi's Wine Bar
Willi's, last year's celebrated newcomer, has settled into its Old Redwood Highway location, still packing them in for the creative small plates and extensive wine list, which includes the inspired option of two-ounce pours. Willi's outdoor seating is shaded and comfortable, even though it is subject to traffic noise, but a few sips of a crisp pinot blanc and a bite of a small delight will whisk away the worries. 4404 Old Redwood Hwy., Santa Rosa. 707.526.3096.

The Flamingo Lounge
You don't have to be staying at a resort to unwind poolside with a tropical drink. The Flamingo, with its evocative retro-styled pink neon sign, has tables and lounge chairs by its Olympic-sized pool. It's a great way to trick your mind into believing you are on a mini vacation. 2777 Fourth St., Santa Rosa. 707.545.8530.

The Cantina
A cold margarita on a hot day is one of life's greatest hedonistic pleasures. Facing Courthouse Square, with leafy greens bursting out all over the place, and chips and salsa at the ready, the Cantina presses the relaxation buttons--and also the drunken-party buttons, if you're there on a weekend evening and partaking in the upstairs debauchery. 500 Fourth St., Santa Rosa. 707.523.3663.

Third Street Ale Works
Picking up the slack for the great downtown people-watching scene that made relaxing with a beer at the Old Vic so fun, Third Street Ale Works' back patio area is a hotbed of young smokers, so keep that in mind if you drop in during happy hour (weekdays 4­6pm) for a $2 pint. On Wednesdays, barbecue oysters are $1 a pop from 5pm until they are gone. 610 Third St., Santa Rosa. 707.523.3060.

Syrah
A closed atrium makes for indoor-outdoor dining and drinking, with floral accents and not one, but two fountains. Syrah is noted for its extensive wine list that's heavy on Rhône varietals. Be adventurous and try a flight of unusual wines. 205 Fifth St., Santa Rosa. 707.568.4002.

Tastings Restaurant and Wine Bar
You'd need a shoehorn to squeeze another top-rate restaurant into Healdsburg, but the town has apparently not yet reached its saturation point. Tastings holds its own, with seasonal patio dining and a truly international wine list. 505 Healdsburg Ave., Healdsburg. 707.433.3936.

Lucy's
It's really the place to be in downtown Sebastopol. The outdoor patio that faces Sebastopol's plaza opened for the summer just last week, and it's an ideal spot to savor drinks like Lucy's Lover's Martini, which is a magical, citrusy concoction with a fruity float that's about as far from a classic martini as you can get. It could easily be a lover, though. Lucy's bartenders make a mean drink, and they also offer some good wines by the glass, so whether you're slugging margaritas or sipping Chardonnay and nibbling on a pizza special, warm Sebastopol evenings spent watching the kids playing in the fountain lie ahead. 6948 Sebastopol Ave., Sebastopol. 707.829.9713.

Powerhouse Brewing Co.
The Powerhouse has almost as much outdoor seating as it does inside, 10 tables wrapped around the building's porch, making it a great place to settle in for a beer or three (the brews happen to go perfectly with the high-voltage fries, spiked with garlic and hot sauce). The award-winning beers run the gamut from a light wheat to a hearty stout, but if beer's not your thing (huh?), local wines are available, too. 268 Petaluma Ave. (Hwy. 116), Sebastopol. 707.829.9171.

Ace-in-the-Hole Pub
Mmmm, cider. It's a delightful nectar--cool, fruity, refreshing. Ace puts out some of the very best. You can buy it nationwide, but we're lucky enough to get it straight from the horse's mouth. The scrappy little bar on the corner of Graton Road and Gravenstein Highway is often mistaken for a hardware store, says owner Jeffrey House, but those in the know . . . well, they know. Recently expanding into the French-inspired world of crepes, the authentic buckwheat kind filled with fresh local ingredients, Ace is doing the natural pairing thing with its ciders. Also on offer are intriguing English ales. And as the scent of Sebastopol manure lingers in the summer evening air, the tang of a cool cider heals what ails. 3100 Gravenstein Hwy. N., Sebastopol. 707.829.1223.

Underwood
Much has been written about Graton's newest culinary sensation--because, with its extensive bar, boisterous, comfortable atmosphere, and finely executed food, it's worth writing about. Never one to sit on his laurels, executive chef Matthew Greenbaum--along with partner Sally Spittles--is moving onward and upward. The outdoor seating to the side of the restaurant is open now, complete with 10 tables set for dinner and/or drinks (with heat lamps to ward off the chill). Later this summer, Greenbaum expects to have the backyard patio finished, complete with a bocce ball court and perhaps musical entertainment. 9113 Graton Road, Graton. 707.823.7023.

Willow Wood
Willow Wood's sweet little backyard, with the few tables encroached on by creeping rose bushes, is more of an outdoor eating space than an outdoor drinking space, but when the urge strikes for a crisp Fumé Blanc and a caesar salad over a good book, here's your place. The funky, casual atmosphere and friendly faces ameliorate the experience. 9020 Graton Road, Graton. 707.823.0233.

The Girl and the Fig
Both the Sonoma and the Petaluma outposts of the Girl and the Fig have wonderful outdoor spaces, wide and expansive, and sheltered from the street. Petaluma has the added bonus of being situated right on the river, although the evening weather has not yet been beneficent enough to allow for dinner al fresco. A lazy lunch or before-dinner cocktails in either location is exactly what summer means. 110 W. Spain St., Sonoma. 707.938.3634; 222 Weller St., Petaluma. 707.769.0123.

Bistro Don Giovanni
A splashy selection of fruity cocktails, as well as sparkling wines by the glass, make for a relaxing afternoon out on the terrace overlooking the Tuscan-style gardens that Bistro Don Giovanni is known for. There's a great view of the mountains, too. 4110 Howard Lane (off Highway 29), Napa. 707.224.3300.

Bouchon
Ah, Paris. Remember that summer we spent drinking Lillet in the sun, flirting with the waiter? Good times. Yountville is no Paris, it's true. First of all, they don't speak French in Yountville, although they do do French laundry there. But Napa does have Bouchon, which might be pretty close to Paris if you close your eyes and conjure up the smell of Gauloises and the sound of tinny car horns. As far as sitting outside and drinking Lillet, well, yes, Bouchon is the place. Not only Lillet, in fact, but a wide variety of aperitifs, cocktails, and wines. 6540 Washington St., Yountville. 707.944.8037.

Domaine Chandon
Not that anyone's going to just swing by Domaine Chandon for a drink, but just because we live here, there's no reason to avoid the obvious. Besides, it's enlightening to observe how tourists observe the wine country. Chandon is renowned for its quality tours, indoor and outdoor art exhibits, and restaurant. So you might as well make an afternoon out of it, taking a tour (no appointments needed) and then winding up with a few glasses of bubbly on the terrace to enjoy the panorama. 1 California Drive, Yountville. 707.944.2280.

Horizons
The full-on maritime cocktail scene. Built in 1898 by the San Francisco Yacht Club, the space that's now Horizons didn't become a restaurant until 1959. The deck outside affords views of passing boats, Angel Island, Alcatraz, and the San Francisco skyline. You can't go to a seaside tourist town and not go to a place like this. Expect beer, wine, and mixed drinks--the norm; it's the view that's the draw. 558 Bridgeway, Sausalito. 415.331.3232.

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From the June 12-18, 2003 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.

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