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There’s something magical about eating al fresco. In Southwest Virginia, there’s a growing number of places to choose from.
STEPHANIE KLEIN-DAVIS | The Roanoke Times
Bryce and Dena Anderson enjoy dinner with their boxer, Zoey, at Fork in the Market.
STEPHANIE KLEIN-DAVIS | The Roanoke Times
David (in stripes) and Michelle Peters of Rocky Mount enjoy their one-year wedding anniversary dining on the patio at The Quarter in Roanoke.
Wednesday, June 5, 2013
Some of my most memorable restaurant experiences didn’t take place inside a restaurant at all.
Drinks on the greenery-draped patio at Macado’s in Salem; lunch under an umbrella along the marina in St. Martin; fish and chips at a picnic table in the Shetland Islands — these meals are accompanied by gentle breezes, warm beams of sunshine and other ambiance that only outdoor dining can allow.
It’s no wonder, then, that people love eating al fresco.
Five to 10 years ago, finding restaurants with outdoor tables in Roanoke was far more challenging than it is today. I did a round-up of the best spots in the city in 2006 and came up with a whopping 10. Sure, that wasn’t a comprehensive list at the time, but today it takes more effort to list places that don’t have outdoor seating.
There are no official statistics to explain the increase in options, but in this case I’m not sure it’s necessary. When the weather is pleasant, human beings enjoy being outdoors. There’s just something magical about open-air dining.
“I think it adds to the vibrancy and to the fun of dining,” said Lisa Soltis, an economic development specialist
Plus, she said, outdoor dining is “a huge revenue producer.”
With the right setup, outdoor tables can greatly increase a restaurant’s capacity during warm months, and those seats are often the most coveted ones.
Of course, not all outdoor dining experiences are delightful. When I brought up this topic on the Fridge Magnet blog at roanoke.com, some readers pointed out the downside. That includes bugs, cigarette smoke, traffic, ugly views and suffocating heat.
“An open area with adequate air flow is very important,” wrote Stelio Kontos. “Some outdoor eating areas are so closed in, allowing for minimal air flow, which can lead to a very hot and sweaty dinning experience. … Proper shade is also important on those really hot days.”
A reader named Teresa wrote: “I like to eat outside when it’s rooftop or away from traffic. I have zero interest in eating in car exhaust downtown. I also will not go to places that allow smoking in their outdoor dining areas.”
Regarding smoking, it is allowable in outdoor areas under Virginia law so long as the area meets certain requirements (is separate from non smoking areas, has proper venting and isn’t enclosed by screen or some other temporary enclosure). Also under the law, restaurant owners are allowed to prohibit smoking in outdoor areas, but not many do.
In Roanoke, restaurateurs must obtain a permit for sidewalk dining if they do not own the sidewalk in front of the restaurant. Outdoor areas located somewhere besides the sidewalk, such as the patio at Beamer’s 25 or the rooftop deck at Corned Beef & Company, do not have to have a permit. At this time, 20 businesses have outdoor dining permits on file with the city and a few are pending, according to the Planning, Building and Development office.
In Blacksburg, community leaders are working to greatly expand outdoor dining options with the addition of the College Avenue Promenade, a project that will transform College Avenue in downtown into a one-way street with dining on the other side.
Planning director Anne McClung said there are currently only three outdoor tables in that area — at Gillie’s — but the project’s completion will mean as many as 80 tables may be available to local restaurants. Restaurateurs will have to have a franchise agreement to use part of the right-of-way for tables, she said.
Several restaurants are already interested in space, she said, and the construction will hopefully be finished in July.
So, by this time next year there will be even more al fresco dining options in Southwest Virginia. For now, with the help of readers, I’ve attempted to come up with a comprehensive list of restaurants that offer outdoor seating. These range from a couple of tables on the sidewalk to large patios and decks full of seating.
I’m sure I’ve forgotten some places — if you want to add your favorites, please shoot me an email or call me at 981-3343.
Then do what your mom always told you to do: Go outside, and get some fresh air!
Dining outside in Southwest Virginia
DOWNTOWN & VICINITY
GRANDIN VILLAGE & VICINITY
AT OR NEAR THE MALLS
NEW RIVER VALLEY
SMITH MOUNTAIN LAKE
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