The weather has been strangely gorgeous for it being August, so we decided to hit up some of Urbana’s outdoor patios for a date night. We knew we wanted to have dinner at Crane Alley and also catch a couple of bands that were playing downtown. TGIF, baby!
We got to Crane Alley fairly early, beating the dinner rush, so we could still catch the first band's set next door at the newest bar in downtown Urbana, Blackbird. If we wanted to, though, we could have brought carry-out from Crane Alley over with us to Blackbird. We saw quite a few people doing this while we were there, as Blackbird is bar-only. Crane Alley has quite a bit of outdoor patio space with some seating located at the front of the building while the rest runs down the alley along the side. It’s probably one of the best and most popular patios to hang out at in Urbana. They have a great beer and cocktail menu along with a fantastic food menu.
We sat outside in the alley and ordered two draft beers to start off: Coconut Hiwa Porter ($6, 14oz) and Great Lakes Brewing Co.’s Oktoberfest ($4, 14oz). I’ve been obsessed with anything coconut lately. I wouldn’t normally order a porter with a meal because it’s a bit heavy in that regard, but my husband ordered it and I was dying to try it. The coconut is very mild, I tasted more of a toasted malt/coffee flavor. It was very good. And of course, so was the Oktoberfest. I don’t think I’ve ever met an Oktoberfest I didn’t like. Crane Alley also offers flights for tastings if you’re not sure you want to order a full pour of something you haven’t tried before.
For our meal, we both ordered off the sandwich menu, the hubby ordered the War Pig ($15) and I ordered the Falafel ($9). Check out this description of the War Pig: 1/2 pound burger, bacon, grilled ham, chipotle aioli, gorgonzola, and brioche bun. Wow! This isn’t Crane Alley's only epic burger. If you don’t mind drool on your keyboard, go to their webpage and take a look at all the past gourmet/craft burgers served called their Burger Hall of Fame. Other current burgers include classics like portabella, BBQ, turkey, and black bean burgers. My husband enjoyed the War Pig, but he wished there was maybe more of, or more flavor to the aioli to help add some punch to all those layers of meat. The gorgonzola was nice and mild and a great addition. I had a few bites and it was really tasty. The burger patty had a really great flavor, the cheese melted beautifully, and I love me a good brioche bun. I steered clear of the thick slice of ham though. I can eat a whole plate of just crispy fried bacon, but ham, no thanks.
The falafel sandwich comes with a side of taboulleh rather than fries, but you can always substitute for a couple of dollars more. Three fried, homemade falafel patties are topped with a cucumber salad and tzatziki and served inside a toasted pita. I haven’t had a good falafel in a very long time. I thought this one was executed very well: expertly fried outside with a creamy, flavorful chickpea mix inside. It had just the right amount of sauce/salad mixture and soft, fresh pita. The taboulleh was a wonderfully light side, served cold, and went easy on the parsley and mint, which I liked. I highly recommend.
Now for more drinks and live music! Blackbird shares a patio area with Crane Alley (same owner too) so it was just a hop, skip and a jump over to our next venue. The patio was empty as the band was situated inside, but I’ve seen it be pretty full since its opening. There’s a bag set, ping pong table and lots of seating. Inside, the New Orleans Jazz Machine was going strong. Blackbird has a variety of beer, liquor and a handful of house cocktails (which are all tasty by the way), but we couldn’t listen to New Orleans jazz and not be drinking a Sazerac. The bartender whipped a couple up for us, made it with Bulleit rye whiskey and served on the rocks ($7). It’s typically just stirred with ice and then strained, but I actually liked it served with ice. It’s a strong drink and I don’t mind a little water with my whiskey. The bartender was friendly and knowledgeable and there was a good vibe amongst the patrons.
When the band ended their set, Los Guapos was just starting theirs over at the Sipyard across the street. I love hanging out at Sipyard and I think Los Guapos’ cumbia funk is a perfect vibe for it. At Sipyard they serve their booze out of a shipping container that’s placed in an outdoor graffiti gallery. Lots of various artists have placed their mark there (go and #seeklordyeti). Very cool. And it’s not just for the “young’uns’” as I’ve always seen a very diverse group of people there and I never feel out of place. I drank Triptych’s ‘It’s All Happening,’ the rest of the night (Blonde Ale) and my husband drank Bell’s ‘Pooltime Ale’ (witbier; both $5). When it comes to beer to each his own, and I love a good ale whether it be blonde, pale, brown, Irish red. Triptych’s blonde ale was good, but that witbier was not my cup of tea. The hubby enjoyed it, though. We met up with some friends and shared a few laughs while Los Guapos played us all into the night. It was good times.
Urbana is home to quite a few quaint outdoor patios. As far as the downtown area goes, the good vibes continue at places like the Iron Post, Bunny’s Tavern, and Pizza M. Soak it up while you can. Summer is too quickly coming to an end. What’s your favorite outdoor spot?
Crane Alley is located at 115 West Main Street, Urbana, and is open 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. daily. Kitchen hours are Sunday through Thursday ,11 a.m. to midnight; and Friday and Saturday 11 a.m. to 1:30 a.m.
Blackbird is located at 119 West Main Street, Urbana, and is open 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. daily.
Sipyard is located at 204 West Main Street, Urbana, and is open Monday though Wednesday 4:30 p.m. to 11 p.m.; Thursday and Friday 4:30 p.m. to midnight; Saturday 3 p.m. to midnight; and Sunday 3 p.m. to 9 p.m.
All photos by Bobbie Bonebrake.