May 30 2012 12:00 AM

Say goodbye to freezing rain and snow drifts: The sun has officially returned to town. It´s once again safe to eat outside, visit a local festival or plan a fishing trip or a golf game. True, our much-loved Michigan cherries might be hard to find thi


All things al fresco 

Peanut Barrel

By Joe Torok

The patio outside the Peanut Barrel in East Lansing isn’t the fanciest in town, or the largest, or the most festive. It is, though, perhaps the best spot in the Lansing area to relax with friends over a meal, to sip a glass of wine on a breezy evening, and people watch. A few meters away from Grand River Avenue, there’s plenty of buzz from the street, but the bustle comes just as much from the bikers, skateboarders, strolling shoppers, students at the bus stop and the blue-water fountain gurgling nearby. Flowers, shrubs and whispering tree leaves dampen the noise of the city, and on a hot, sunny afternoon they blanket the space in a cool blanket of stippled shadow. Make mine a chianti.

The Thirsty Perch


For my money, the best patio in town is The Thirsty Perch, Blue Gill Grill’s rooftop masterpiece in Haslett. The 2-year-old deck has a tiki bar fully stocked with boat drinks, providing the perfect capper to a day spent waterskiing, laying out at the beach on the corner, or running the trails at Lake Lansing Park North just up the road. And did I mention it overlooks Lake Lansing, the only real recreation lake in the area — how much better does that get? Well, I guess we’ll find out next month when the Mayfair Bar next door opens their rooftop patio: 30 feet closer to the water.



Now, don’t get me wrong: I love my fellow college-aged bar-goers. But there comes a time when I need my space. I’ll trade the congested, shoulder-to-shoulder, sweaty, packed bar scene for some much-needed breathing room. Harper’s offers just that when it opens up its patio section. Extra seating and personal space is always a nice change of pace. There’s nothing like an impromptu summer night trip to the bar with your buddies, and there is nothing like enjoying a beer — or, my personal favorite, a gin and tonic — on a warm Michigan evening. The patio also offers both a safe place to drink and a good view of the street, giving patrons a front row seat to the many social oddities that spring up just north of the border of Michigan State’s campus.

El Azteco


Admittedly, the rooftop at El Azteco in East Lansing doesn’t have the greatest view. Downtown East Lansing looks like even more like a strip mall from here than it does from Grand River Avenue. But climb the long, winding stairway, get into a table or a booth tucked into the stucco battlements, breathe the lofty air, delicately scented with deep fried corn chips, and you will find more high adventure than you can handle. Gaze up and track the orange disc of the sun while you can. Soon you’ll need to focus on the monumental foodscape directly in front of you. Towering topopo salads, tawny enchiladas nestled in lakes of molten cheese, fumaroles of hot sauce and glacial melt from tooth-freezing margaritas make this patio the roof of the world, as far as greater Lansing is concerned. There’s a tented area, for shade, and an open space for sun-lovers. The booths on the west end of the patio, shaded by a wooden lattice, are extra nice at dusk. Wildlife encounters are common, but they’re seldom life-threatening: Sparrows sneak under your feet to pick at the chip fragments, then pop into the surrounding flower beds to polish them off. Everybody looks happy up here. The only way to improve a rooftop restaurant is to make it revolve — and a few margaritas will take care of that.