By Lindsey McClave

Photos by Lindsey McClave 

When the sun shines bright over Louisville, there are few pleasures greater than enjoying the bounty that our Bluegrass State has to offer on one of the city’s various patios. Restaurants both old and new are serving up dishes fit for dining al fresco, so we’ve curated a progressive meal that takes you bouncing from patio to patio and indulging in a different course at each stop.

While our tour focuses on the Highlands and NuLu neighborhoods, the opportunity for dining outdoors in Louisville is vast, the combinations for progressive dinners endless. Consider this itinerary a jumping-off point for appreciating the warm temps and fresh flavors this season offers us. Now, without further ado, it’s time for cocktails!

Drinks at 
El Camino
1314 Bardstown Road

Few would argue that El Camino boasts one of Louisville’s most in-demand patios. The various tables, bar tops, and firepit booths fill up day and night with parched Highlands-goers looking to sip away an hour or three while taking in the sights and sounds of the always-hopping Bardstown Road. The mix of Mexican eats with tiki-bar inspired drinks and plenty of ‘surfer-dude’ tunes makes El Camino an excellent choice for any element of a meal. Given the ambiance and strength of the cocktail menu, it sets a fun and feisty tone for the night and is our first stop on this dinner adventure.

As with nearly every visit to El Camino, I’ll be having the mai tai. Crafted with four — yes, four — different kinds of rum, this cocktail is meant to be sipped slowly as it packs a punch tempered only by nutty orgeat syrup, curaçao, and fresh lime juice. Served over pellets of ice and garnished with a paper umbrella, this drink takes the taste buds on vacation, if only for a moment, and sets the ideal stage for a night of dining outdoors.

Appetizer at 
Galaxie Bar
732 East Market St.

Our thirst quenched, our next stop is only a couple of miles away and is one of the newest additions to the hip NuLu neighborhood: Galaxie Bar. Brought to us by the good folks of Rye on Market, Galaxie Bar offers a more casual environment than its fine-dining sister establishment. The menu is equally as creative as Rye’s, however, and offers an eclectic blend of flavors from around the globe. In the Across the Universe platter, tastes from both East and West are on delicious display in a plethora of dips that include avocado mousse, silky-smooth hummus, cucumber labna, whipped feta cheese, and roasted tomato harissa. Housemade Galaxie bread — a hybrid nan-meets-pita creation — serves as the ideal vehicle for enjoying these flavors of the world. And it is hard to visit Galaxie Bar and not order one of its signature margaritas. The option to ‘make it spicy’ with the addition of jalapeno slices is essential. Snag a spot on the cozy and covered front patio and enjoy watching the streets of NuLu fill with locals and tourists alike.

Dinner at 
812 East Market St.

Our dinner reservation is a mere block away at NuLu mainstay Decca. Led by Chef Annie Pettry, Decca’s outdoor dining space is expansive and as organic and beautiful as the dishes its menu boasts. With a focus on locally sourced, seasonal ingredients and a penchant for wood-fired cooking, the menu is a delight for al fresco feasting. Savor a filet of pan-seared salmon topped with shiitake mushrooms and served in a lemongrass and artichoke broth, or try the crispy pork milanese adorned with fresh spring peas and parmesan crema set atop a pea purée.

The fresh foliage surrounding the original brick walls defines the outdoor space, and raised stone beds are filled with the colors of the season. A water feature helps to muffle any ambient noise trickling in from the bustle of the street, and a fire pit flickers brightly, lending a touch of warmth to counter the dipping sun. From this vantage point, it is easy to see why Decca is one of Louisville’s most beloved dining establishments and why its patio setting is in such high demand.

Dessert at
Steel City Pops
1021 Bardstown Road

Now that we’re well fed in the savory department, it’s time for something sweet. The final stop on our tour takes us back to the Highlands for a post-dinner treat at one of Bardstown Road’s newest additions, Steel City Pops. Here you will find a rainbow of popsicles crafted with all-natural ingredients and with raw, organic cane sugar as the only sweetener required. Flavors range from the classic tastes of strawberry, lime, and sweet tea to the funky avocado, chai latte, and toasted marshmallow.

There are benches surrounding the entrance to Steel City that offer a casual patio for relaxing and enjoying your pop of choice. But the inclination to take a stroll along this busy intersection of Bardstown, Baxter, and Highland Avenue might be too tempting to resist. Thus we suggest toasting an evening under the sky, now bright with stars, by taking your dessert and wandering a section of town that is responsible for ‘keeping Louisville weird.’ We wouldn’t have it any other way.

Do you like dining outdoors? Where do you go?