There's no sidewalk so narrow, no parking lot so dusty, no deck so desolate that someone won't stick a pair of plastic chairs on it and call it alfresco. When you're not in the mood to settle for shabby, here are some places that sparkle:
The South Side (2207 West 11th Street, 216-937-2288) -- Worthy of a House & Garden photo spread, the South Side's "outdoor living area" offers comfort, style, and beauty, as well as romantic lighting and a fireplace. The recently installed copper-topped roof extends over part of the space, making outdoor dining a possibility even when the weather is iffy. Dense landscaping provides shade, privacy, and an effective buffer from street noise for guests sampling the menu of updated tavern fare.
Ponte Vecchio (2100 Superior Viaduct Bridge, 216-556-8200) -- Uniquely situated on the remains of the Superior Viaduct Bridge, Ponte Vecchio's small canopied patio offers one-of-a-kind views of the Flats, the Powerhouse, and the Veterans Memorial Bridge. Ornamental arches, generous plantings, and sparkling white lights give the intimate space the feel of a fairy bower. On Friday and Saturday evenings, an acoustic guitarist adds to the Italian-style charm.
Michaelangelo's (2198 Murray Hill Road, 216-721-0300) -- Lined in umbrellas and wrapped in tiny white lights, the intimate deck at this new Little Italy trattoria is simple but charming. Blame it on the Prosecco, the prosciutto-wrapped meats, and the fine homemade pastas; but even the nearby University Hospitals parking deck looks reasonably scenic, framed in trees and fronted by a pair of bocce courts.
Great Lakes Brewing Company (2516 Market Avenue, 216-771-4404) -- Our pick when we're in the mood for a block party, the sidewalk dining area in front of the brewpub offers an urban vibe and top-notch people-watching. The amenities are more functional than fancy, but a line of tall locust trees draped in white lights reinforces the street-party feel. Neighbors Flying Fig and Market Avenue Wine Bar boast little patios of their own, so the festivities drift up and down the street as the night progresses.
Other special spots include newly installed patios at 806 Wine & Martini Bar (806 Literary Road, 216-696-4806) and Luchita's (7431 Ridge Road, Parma, 440-753-7650).