It’s patio season, folks! And I am so excited. In Champaign-Urbana spring, restaurants and bars plant outdoor seating, umbrellas bloom, and taps of beer irrigate people who have long awaited this time of year. C-U really comes alive in the spring and summer, and there’s no shortage of places to go to pull up a patio chair and enjoy a beverage.
With a new season comes new cocktail menus, so I headed out to a handful of local places to try some light, refreshing options now that my hibernation is officially over.
There is no shortage of places to go enjoy a beverage these next few months, so you have no excuse. There’s something for everyone, every palate, and every mood. Citrusy, frozen, iced, sweet, sour, you name it. And all the places featured here offer outdoor seating and darn good drinks, so get out there and (responsibly) enjoy Champaign-Urbana this summer.
Lilly Pear | Seven Saints
I went to Seven Saints one evening on one of the first days it felt like spring had been skipped and it was just full-fledged summer; it was after 6 p.m. and it was 82°. But, I love it and I definitely still sat outside. I had the Lilly Pear: Wheatley Vodka, St. George Spiced Pear Liqueur, elderflower liqueur, white grapefruit juice, and thyme. Sounds like kind of a lot, right? Well, I thought so, too, but I liked each of the ingredients so I gave it a try. It was nice and bright considering all the strong, competing flavors. At first it tasted a little heavy on the vodka, since I suspected pear would be the forefront flavor. I mean, it’s in the name. But as I continued to sip on it the flavors became layered: a little grapefruit there, a little elderflower here.
I wouldn’t blame you if you looked at the ingredients of this drink and immediately felt a sugar-induced headache, but I definitely think this drink is worth it if you’re looking for something light and refreshing. It’ll set you back $11, but if you’re just looking to pair it with a light eat, go ahead and go for it. I think the Lily Pear rather screams spring, but Seven Saints has several other intriguing cocktails on their menu if you’re looking for something a little less hip and floral.
32 E Chester St
T-Sa 11 a.m. to 2 a.m.
Su + M 11 a.m. to midnight
Bee’s Knees | Hamilton Walker’s
Hamilton Walker’s is the premier place to go grab a drink if you want to feel really fancy about yourself. It’s definitely no dive bar, and it’s a place I feel like you plan to go to for a little touch of class when it comes to your booze. When I went it was a torrential downpour so unfortunately I didn’t get to drink outside, but the retro atmosphere inside is still enjoyable.
I went with the Bee’s Knees, and I’ll tell you—that’s what it was. It came in a frosted cocktail glass filled with Boodles Gin, lemon, and honey. Simple, but oh-so-good; it was uber refreshing and the perfect balance of lemon and touch of honey. This drink was made for sitting out in the sun and enjoying a little daytime imbibing. I really don’t know what else to tell you other than you should really go try it for yourself. This is a drink I would definitely recommend if you visit for lunch or brunch; it’s a fresh treat.
201 N Neil
M-W 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Th + F 11 a.m. to 1 a.m.
Sa 10 a.m. to 1 a.m.
Su 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.
...Chai, Chai Again | Bentley’s Pub
I stopped by Bentley’s to scope out the menu and was hit with a plethora of choices. They have their own seasonal cocktails, house cocktails, traditional cocktails...how could I decide? But since this is a review of spring and summer drinks, that at least narrowed it down to the seasonal section. I was really eyeing their dreamsicle slushie, but I decided to switch it up and go with what I thought was a rather unconventional choice: ...Chai, Chai Again.
Did the punny name have any influence? Oh, most definitely. I’m a sucker for a play on words. To me, a chai drink when it’s 80° outside doesn’t exactly scream summer when the other options are fruity and/or frozen. But, it was a good choice. If you like chai, you’ll like this. It’s chai infused vodka, brown sugar simple syrup, and almond milk. I love chai, and I was so relieved that the drink actually tasted like chai and not some unfortunate experiment gone awry. It came iced, but would also be delish frozen. (Next slushie, Bentley’s?) The ...Chai, Chai Again was very nicely crafted and easy to drink, and I would certainly drink one again. It’s a welcomed change up to the typical, citrusy summer cocktails.
419 N Neil
3 p.m. to 2 a.m. daily
Lime in the Coconut | Miga
I’ve been to Miga before to try a seasonal cocktail, because it’s a really good place to go for one. They have a nice varied seasonal menu with some combinations that are a bit more nuanced than just vodka and Red Bull (but, hey, I am not knocking that). And like at Bentley’s — although these two could not be more polar opposites — I was having a tough time choosing a drink. The Blueberry Mojito sounded great. So did the Raspberry Mule. And the Rosé Spritzer? Sign me up! But I went with the most summery sounding option: Lime in the Coconut (like I said, I love the clever names).
The Lime in the Coconut ($10) is Clement coconut liqueur, lime, pineapple, and coconut water. It was fresh and did not taste boozy, and because my favorite sport is rationalizing, I found it to be a pretty good option if you’re trying to cut back on some calories. Because it was so light, this would definitely be a cocktail I’d drink too many of on vacation at the beach. It’s the type of beverage day drinking on the patio was made for. I recommend stopping in to give this a try. And may I suggest pairing it as I did with an Aloha sushi roll? It makes you feel so glad that summer is quickly approaching.
301 N Neil
M-Th 5 to 9 p.m.
F + Sa 5 to 10 p.m.
Peach Texas Mule | Crane Alley
To cap it off, it was time for a visit to Crane Alley in Urbana. They have many cocktails to choose from all year round, but they highlight some special choices each week. When I took a look at the featured menu, I zoned right in on “Thai One On.” (Again with these names! I love it!) It's made of Hendricks Orbium lotus and blossom gin, thai spice bitter, watermelon juice, soda water, and to top it all off, a curried chili salt rim. Yes, please. So imagine my severe disappointment upon my order to be told they were all out of the ingredients to make it. For those of you out there that were able to get your hands on this drink: I’m jealous and I hope it was as good as it sounds. Let me know.
Other featured cocktails were a peach old fashioned and a coconut cold brew (Mr. Black Cold Brew coffee liqueur, coconut creme, Schafly Coconut Creme Ale). Feeling defeated, I quickly scanned back over the other cocktail menu, saw the section of citrus cocktails, and went with a reliable option: a peach Texas Mule ($7). You can change of the flavors to either lemon or grapefruit, too. While not as “special” sounding as the Thai One On, Crane Alley makes great mules and it’s always a solid option to go to for patio sippin’. They also have a drink called the Grass Skirt (Tangueray gin, triple sec, pineapple juice, and cherry) that sounds delightfully summery. Crane Alley’s atmosphere alone makes it a great place to pull up an iron chair outside and grab a bite to eat. It’s cool and cozy and very Urbana. I’ll be hoping they feature the Thai One On again, because I’ll be there.
115 W Main
11 a.m. to 2 a.m. daily
Photos by Remington Rock