Five great outdoor spots

Party on the patio: Cool drinks that are made for sippin' in the shade

Party on the patio: Cool drinks that are made for sippin' in the shade

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Benjy's upstairs patio Photo by Jack Thompson
News_Patio drinking_Samba Grille
Samba Grille Photo by Paul Cedillio
News_Patio drinking_Zimm's Little Deck
Zimm's Little Deck Photo by Timothy Runyon
News_Patio drinking_Benjy_Upstairs_Patio
News_Patio drinking_Samba Grille
News_Patio drinking_Zimm's Little Deck

Even in the oppressive Houston summer heat, there's something so refreshing about sitting on a shaded patio and sipping a cool drink. Here are some of our favorite options:

TQLA

Washington Avenue's TQLA has an ever-revolving drink-of-the-month offering, but if June's Fresa Amor was any kind of representative sample, it'll be reason enough to go back and try the next one. Bright pink and unbelievably refreshing, it's thick with chunks of strawberry and fresh lime and recalls a deconstructed daquiri — the only thing missing is the pool lounger.

On the total opposite end of that spectrum is the off-menu Oaxcan Gold, a thick, dark, smoky cocktail that tastes almost like tobacco with its Chi Chi Capa mezcal base, Mexican vanilla, pineapple purée and chili powder-glazed rim.

Enjoy either or a host of other specialty cocktails or taste a tequila flight on the patio over the Three Amigos trio of lime-touched guacamole, habanero and queso.

Freebirds

Did you know Freebirds had brunch? What about booze? And live music? I didn't, and man-oh-Manischewitz am I glad I do now.

 Did you know Freebirds had brunch? What about booze? And live music? I didn't, and man-oh-Manischewitz am I glad I do now. 

Brunch at the burrito chain began a little more than eight months ago, "totally under the radar," according to regional director Payman Khania. On the menu are frozen mimosas — of the bottomless variety, if you so choose — Bloody Marys, lime and strawberry margaritas and ridiculously delicious breakfast tacos. You can get super crazy with carnitas, bacon, hashbrowns, corn salsa and egg or go simple. A plate of three tacos plus chips and salsa cost us around $5. All drinks are $2 — $8 for bottomless.

Adding to the draw is live music — Trey Clark stops by, as does Robert Ellis and The Mighty Orq, among others — and the generous misters out on the patio.

Currently available at the Shepherd location, the brunch menu is available on Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., but is being extended through Monday for the Fourth of July weekend.

Zimm's Little Deck

Bocce ball (or pétanque, if you want to get technical) and a bar cat named Beignet are a few things you can't find at your average watering hole. If you like a cocktail that's a little different (or a classic Nawlins po-boy) Little Zimm's is probably the place for you.

Favorites were the Collins, made with ginger beer, our flute of Fleur de lis and the Maman Bebe. Foodwise, there's an amazing off-the-menu Rockefeller mac n' cheese with oysters and crumbled bacon bits. Nom.

Samba Grille

The Texas-facing downtown patio of Samba Grille might be fan-less, but it makes for some good people-watching as the crowds line up for various events at the neighboring Verizon Wireless Theater. I only wish I'd have thought to have a drink on the deck before Charlie Sheen hit town back in April.

Although there are plenty of tempting cocktail concepts on the menu — including a classic Caipirinha, a Latin version of the Stoli Doli with pineapple-infused cachaça and a pineapple mint caipirinha (made with the same infused cachaça from before) — our favorite drink by far was a virgin option that we made a little naughty.

We'd been tipped off that Samba has a to-die Brazilian lemonade made with lime juice, condensed milk and sugar — lemonade that could benefit only from a healthy dose of Citrón vodka or a spike of cachaça, depending on your preference. They were right.

While you're there, indulge in some solids. Our own Sarah Rufca recently named Samba's one of the best new menus in town. Period. 

Benjy's on Washington 

Benjy's has the benefit of having the best patio of the bunch, with a retractable awning, fold-away outdoor screenings and a generous helping of overhead fans. We took a spot on one of the perimeter booths so we could take in the scene over our beer flight of (512) Alt, Saint Arnold Weedwacker, Real Ale Alamo Ale (which, interestingly, Real Ale sold the rights to) and Leprechaun golden cider.

Although Benjy's might seem like a trendy after-work and date spot for the well-heeled, it can certainly satisfy the beer geek in you. We had a couple of the summer's top-selling Bombshell Blondes (served in cans — awesome — by Conroe's Southern Star) and geeked out over the Golden Mojito, which is made with the Leprechaun cider and is a fresh, mucho-drinkable version of the classic.

Keeping to the pineapple theme of our patio exploration, Benjy's also offers a loverly cocktail called the Pineapple Express, which is essentially sangria marinated in fruit, Chardonnay and 38-times distilled, Austin-based Savvy vodka.