Smile Politely

Cocktails al fresco in Downtown Champaign

With the spring weather, I find myself wanting to spend more time outside. The best way to enjoy the outside, in my opinion, is with a good drink. Earlier in the pandemic, I shared about cocktails to go — and I did love those — but what I’m really down for are some cocktails al fresco. I don’t want to sit in a greenhouse or a dome or box; I want to sit outside and see the sky, feel the breeze, and people-watch while I sip something strong.

I wandered around Downtown Champaign and drank my way across the open patios, over several days. Some of the patios that were available previously in the pandemic were sadly no longer available in April, on the three nights when I went cocktail drinking (looking at you, Hamilton Walker’s and Nando: I love your to go cocktails, but I want to drink on your patio), but these six patio drink options were too fantastic not to share.

On a silver metal table at Guido's in Downtown Champaign, there are two drinks: a yellow martini and a greenish yellow shot with a laminated menu beside it. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Martini and a Shot | Guido’s Bar & Grill

There are lots of outdoor table options at Guido’s, and the view from my table was great. I ordered two drinks (#yolo): a pineapple upside down cake martini ($9.50) and a Scooby Snack shot ($5) to start my evening off, and I recommend both. The martini was made with Smirnoff vanilla vodka, amaretto, and pineapple juice. The drink had a strong maraschino cherry flavor with a sweet pineapple finish. It was fruity cocktail that was well balanced. The Scooby Snack shot consisted of Malibu rum, melon, pineapple, and half-and-half. It was a really creamy, sweet shot that had all the good coconut and pineapple flavors. It tasted a little like a melted piña colada, and I thought Scooby Snack was a fun name.

There are many drinks on the menu at Guido’s including interesting ones like coconut cream pie cocktail, gummy bears shot, and boozy milkshakes in addition to the classics.

2 E Main St
M-Th 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.
F+Sa 11 a.m. to midnight
Su 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.

A cucumber lime margarita from Maize at the Station sits on a black wire table on the private patio behind the bricked old train station in Downtown Champaign. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Cucumber Lime Margarita | Maize

Maize has several margaritas, and believe me when I say I tried three ‘ritas one day on their private patio behind The Station location. The breeze was fantastic, and occasionally, a train would pass, and I felt like I was living that city life. All of Maize’s margaritas were good, but I need to tell you about this cucumber lime margarita ($7.50). The rim had a salty, spicy, sugary mix, and the drink was tasty af. 

To me, it tasted like a spiked spa drink. You know when they give you some cucumber water to chill out? Like that but plus tequila. The strong cucumber notes paired with the fresh brightness of the lime made for a lovely springtime beverage. This drink was an easy drink to drink: a perfect way to quench my thirst after some spicy tacos. 

Maize at The Station
100 N Chestnut
M-Sa 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Su 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.

A very small cocktail glass sits on a silver table outside of Punch! Bar and Lounge in Downtown Champaign. The drink is light orange and filled to the top of the glass. In the blurred background, the intersection of Neil and Church is visible. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

The Hemingway | Punch! Bar & Lounge

There’s a happy hour at Punch! where you can get drinks and shareable bites at a discount, so I mosied my way over there for a little happy hour cocktail while I watched as Champaign’s “rush hour” traffic whizzed by. This month, I’ve been reading To Have and Have Another—A Hemingway Cocktail Companion (really great read, by the way), so I felt compelled to order the Hemingway cocktail when I saw it on the menu.

This cocktail ($6 during happy hour, $10 regularly) was made with Diplomatico Planas white rum, Luxardo maraschino, lime, and grapefruit. It was pretty small as far as cocktails go, but it was mostly liquor, so it was probably for the best. The drink began very tart and sour but finished sweet and smooth. This cocktail is a sipping drink, for sure. The tart, puckery flavor of the grapefruit forced me to slow down and enjoy the drink — and enjoy this moment al fresco. 

Punch! Bar & Lounge
217 N Neil St
M-Th 4 to 10 p.m.
F+Sa 4 p.m. to midnight

On a black outdoor table, there is a glass cup with an orange drink and a wedge of lemon with a green straw. On the table is a taped image of a chicken and a QR code for the menu at Watson's Shack & Rail. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Watson’s Wabbit | Watson’s Shack & Rail

This cocktail called Watson’s Wabbit ($9) was made with Chicago Distilling Finn’s gin, carrot juice, honey ginger syrup, and lemon juice, garnished with a lemon, and it was smashing. This bright orange drink was fresh and cold with both sweet and spicy flavors. The ginger was the strongest, and the lemon was prominent as well. If you’re scared of carrot juice, don’t be scared of this cocktail. The carrot is more like an essence of carrot, like a whisper of carrot juice — which I found swell because I don’t think anyone really likes carrot juice (go ahead and at me in the comments if you do).

The Wabbit was like a grown-up lemonade trying to make a new life with ginger. It was a phenomenal cocktail: super smooth and really splendid to drink. I have to give a shout out to Bonnie, my server, who was hilarious and attentive even though I was the only outdoor customer. There are several tables available on the patio outside Watson’s including my table for two, tables for four, tables for six, and a greenhouse. If you can’t fathom savoring a drink outside, there is indoor dining available, and reservations are required for indoor seating.

Watson’s Shack & Rail
211 N Neil St
T-Sa 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Su 4 to 9 p.m.

At night, there is a pink cocktail in a martini glass on an outdoor picnic table. Shimmering, blurred street lights and string lights are in the background. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Pomegranate Splash | Cowboy Monkey

The tables outside Cowboy Monkey are perfect for those wanting to sit outside because there are so many. There are tables for two or four, or larger picnic tables that could seat six or eight people. I ordered my drink inside, watched the friendly bartender mix it up, and then I carried it outside to imbibe under the glimmering lights of Neil Street.

The pomegranate splash ($9) is my new favorite drink at Cowboy Monkey. It was so good. Made with citrus vodka, triple sec, Pama pomegranate liqueur, and fresh lemon juice, this cocktail started with a great sour flavor burst, then sugary sweetness, and then the lemon lingered at the end of my sip. A well-mixed adult beverage, the pomegranate splash should be your next drink order when you visit Cowboy Monkey.

Cowboy Monkey
6 Taylor St
M-Th 4 to 11 p.m.
F 4 p.m. to midnight
Sa 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. + 4 p.m. to midnight
Su 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. + 4 to 9 p.m.

A purple cocktail sits in a snifter glass on a silver table inside Collective Pour. In the blurred background, there are parked cars and the lot beside Neil Street in Downtown Champaign. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

The Butterfly Effect | Collective Pour

So technically, this is not al fresco, but with the large garage door open, it felt a lot like al fresco. I could see the night sky, watch passersby, and feel the evening air as I sipped this cocktail. We’re not going to get mad about technicalities, okay; and if you are, might I suggest this cocktail?

The butterfly effect ($9) consisted of Butterfly tea-infused gin, fresh lemon juice, rosemary syrup, and prosecco. Wow, this was an elegant tasting drink. The aromatic herby notes from the rosemary and tea-infused gin led the beverage with the lemon providing a much appreciated fruity layer. Topped with bubbly, this cocktail had depth and range plus a really pretty purple color. You can always order beer at Collective Pour — and you should if you like beer — but it’s good to know the cocktails are just as legit. 

Word from the owner is that Collective Pour will have outdoor seating available again soon; approval is pending.

Collective Pour
340 N Neil St
M-Th 3 to 10 p.m.
F 3 to 11 p.m.
Sa 1 to 11 p.m.
Su 1 to 9 p.m.

Top image by Alyssa Buckley.

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