Tuesday, May 18, 2010
Indoor-outdoor bars are the new must-have for restaurants in Dallas-Fort Worth
Little touch of Padre Island.
You've heard of indoor-outdoor patio furniture -- how about the indoor-outdoor bar?
It's a nouveau bar design being embraced by restaurants around Dallas and Fort Worth where the bar is half indoors, half out. It's fancier than a garage door, but not as impenetrable as a brick wall. Its free-wheeling personality can make you feel like you've been transported to a beachy Margaritaville-style haunt.
Ideal for year-round tropical climates where you can leave the door open all year, it also works most of the year in warm southern states such as Texas and Florida.
The cool thing is the way the bar creates a sense of displacement, one that is both disorienting and liberating. For example: Dallas Chop House may be in the thick of downtown Dallas but once you've pulled up to a stool at its outdoor bar, with the breeze blowing both ways, you can almost convince yourself you're on Padre Island.
Restaurants who've installed them are thrilled with the way they draw in customers, literally right off the street.
"All we're missing is the sand," says Dallas Chop House chef Kenny Mills.
Kona Grill, which opened at NorthPark Center in 2006, was first; nearly every branch of this national chain has its own indoor-outdoor bar.
But the design took off locally after it was done so tastefully by Bolsa, the hip foodie spot in Oak Cliff, who wanted to connect the restaurant's interior with its spacious, energetic street-side patio.
Restaurants that have jumped on the bandwagon include Cowboy Chow in Roanoke, Urbino Pizza on Henderson (since closed), Love Shack So7 in Fort Worth, Dallas Chop House, and Terra Mediterranean Grill in Fort Worth.
Bolsa's bar was designed by Royce Ring, of Dallas-based Plan B Group, who was inspired by bars he'd seen on beaches in South Florida.
"You can usually find them in temperate climates where it’s a little less extreme in terms of hot and cold," he says.
David Pedrack, who owned Urbino Pizza, chose the indoor-outdoor bar to mask the bad legacy left by the previous tenant.
"They had a piece of Plexiglas there that they'd slide up and down," he says. "It was pretty weird. It looked like a check-cashing window. When I saw it, I said, 'This has to go.' It forced me to do something with that front façade."
He got a garage door fabricated by Dallas-based Overhead Door Co., with glass -- "so you could also see through it," says Pedack.
Terra Mediterranean Grill, opened in Fort Worth by Ali Baba owners Jalal and Adam Chanaa, has one of the prettiest indoor-outdoor bars around.
"It's a European thing, that's how everybody sits in Europe," Jalal says.
The western facade of Terra has an opening cut out with a dark granite slab bar that extends a foot beyond the exterior wall. When the restaurant is open, up goes its mini-garage door to the ceiling. At closing time, the door comes down, stopping at the bar with a seal on the bottom that prevents entry or passage of air. But the garage door has windows so that you can always see outside, even when it's cold and the door is lowered.
Nearly every indoor-outdoor bar comes with an "air curtain," a long narrow fan that exudes a sheet of air to keep insects out and air-conditioning in.
Air curtains were first used in industrial settings, says Overhead Door Co. president Dee Simons.
"Bars took the idea from the grocery store environment," he says. "You walk into WalMart, Target, warehouses, too -- depending on the time of year, you'll walk through an air curtain. Some they keep on all the time; others go on when the automatic door opens. Now we're even seeing them in trendy apartments where people use them as an invisible wall."
An air curtain was required in order to get approval from the health department, says Donna Spillers, principal designer at Dallas-based Design International, who worked with the Chanaas on the Terra design.
"When you hear the word air curtain, you think of this huge blast that’s going to mess up your hair, but you don't notice it," she says. "It's a little silly because restaurants have doors that are opening all the time."
Her son Matt, who is co-owner of Eno's Pizza Tavern in Bishop Arts, helped her find inspiration on the Terra design, which she dubs a "sidewalk bar."
"He took me to a few places at the Shops at Legacy that have very open bars, like RA Sushi, and we saw how popular these places were, when no one else had any business," she says. "We thought, 'It's crazy not to do it.' But it still surprised me, when Terra was finished, to see how much it magnetizes people to the space, like sugar for flies."
Jalal says that they had a moment where they came close to canceling the indoor-outdoor bar because of how much it cost. He's too polite to specify how much, but a custom garage door alone costs at least $20,000.
"But we decided to keep it, and thank God, because I don't think the place would be as busy as it is," he says. "Other restaurants nearby have outside patios that are hidden. This, you feel like you’re sitting outside, you can see cars go by. It beckons to people."