I remember exploring Toronto for the first time about 25 years ago and being impressed with how popular outdoor dining was there. We were visiting my new in-laws, and it seemed every neighborhood we stopped into had multiple restaurants with sidewalk serving areas; some had a cool feature where their outside windows slid to the side like accordions and turned front rooms into patios. I’d never seen that before.
I also remember talking with my brother-in-law on the trip about why sidewalk dining was all the rage in Toronto, and I chalked it up to desperate Canadians trying to absorb any warmth and sunlight they could. I mean, the Arctic Circle is just up the road, right? Why else would they eat a meal mere feet from parked cars and noisy traffic while pedestrians jostled around the fencing, when a perfectly cozy indoor booth was available?
Not that Cincinnati didn’t have outdoor dining back then. Living in Mt. Adams in those days, two of my favorite restaurants were The Pavilion and City View Tavern, super casual spots with deck views of downtown and the Ohio River. But sidewalk dining wasn’t really a thing here yet.
Once again serving as the “back in my day” staff old guy, I’m thrilled with the amazing array of current dining options we cover in “Outdoor Eats” (page 36). The me of 25 years ago could never have imagined that boring old Cincinnati would embrace these trends and innovations. No way they’ll let restaurants put tables and chairs on our narrow sidewalks. No way they’ll let trucks pull up to the curb and serve food that’s cooked onboard. No way they’ll close streets or block out parking spaces for outdoor dining space. No way they’ll allow people to walk around the streets with drinks in their hands.
Whoever “they” were, I’m happy they either wised up or left town. Because the local dining scene pushed back against all of those rules and grew into something incredible. Is it fair to call this Cincinnati’s golden age of outdoor dining? To be honest, it’s our only age of outdoor dining—so let’s enjoy every minute of it.