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Cathédrale
Photograph: Courtesy Moxy East Village

10 hidden backyards, gardens and patios for outdoor dining in NYC

Or at least as hidden as they can be in NYC.

By Amber Sutherland-Namako
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Outdoor dining and drinking reignites in New York City every spring and summer, and this year it’s hotter than ever. After long cold months spent shivering at streeteries, or not going out at all, we’re ready to thaw out under the sun and linger in the increasingly balmy air. All of which means bar stools and restaurant tables are filling up fast. New York never really left, but it’s certainly back in force. 

Short of making a reservation (What is this, Los Angeles?) one way to secure a seat is to patronize places unknown to your friends and neighbors, unheard of by tourists, and unfamiliar to even the most prolific Yelpers. But being that this is neither the surface of the sun nor the bottom of the sea, few places are truly secret.

Some restaurants and bars, however, do have areas that are a little more hidden away than the rest. These are your semi-secret gardens, surprising back yards, unexpected patios and cozy spots where you can feel a little tucked away in one of the biggest cities in the world.

Hidden outdoor dining spots in NYC

Brooklyn Ice House
Brooklyn Ice House
Photograph: Liza Eckert

Brooklyn Ice House

Bars Beer bars Red Hook

Brooklyn Ice House is dazzling. It isn’t just the gruff exterior, the dark-at-high-noon interior, the more-cluttered-than-most rows of bottles behind the bar, the worn and sometimes torn oxblood banquettes, or the rather good cheeseburgers. Brooklyn Ice House is dazzling because, on your first visit you’ll think you know exactly where you are, and then you’ll step out onto the gravel in its big enough, bright back yard and into a seemingly totally different venue.

Bin 5
Bin 5
Photograph: Courtesy Bin 5

Bin 5

Restaurants American Staten Island

One of Staten Island’s much-lauded restaurants, Bin 5 comes with free views for guests traveling to the borough by ferry, and further rewards them with its back yard, where a predominately red sauce menu is served in a space encased by picket fences and appointed with potted plants.

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Cathedrale
Cathedrale
Photograph: Courtesy Moxy East Village

Cathédrale

Restaurants French East Village

Being that they are the premier destination for clandestine meetings, it’s hard to tell what’s going on behind closed doors at most hotels. Inside the Moxy East Village, down a staircase, barely in view of an open kitchen that turns out general interest menu items, and just off its cavernous bar and dining room, Cathédrale’s terrace is enveloped in greenery beneath a retractable roof.

Lolo's Seafood Shack
Lolo's Seafood Shack
Photograph: Courtesy Lolo's Seafood Shack

Lolo's Seafood Shack

Restaurants Seafood Harlem

Although its 116th street facade appears fairly narrow from the sidewalk, through the back and down a few stairs, Lolo’s Seafood Shack has picnic tables, benches and bar stools in saturated nautical shades vibrant enough for your next, or first in a while, going-out social media photo shoot.

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Palma

Restaurants Italian West Village
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Now in its 21st year, Palma is double semi-obscured. Situated on Cornelia Street, which is only a block long, it’s the kind of place you’d have had to give knowingly-toned directions to in the days before Google maps. It does look darling even to passersby, who might catch a whiff of pappardelle alla bolognese from the sidewalk, and it’s even lovelier with a glass of wine in the verdant backyard that splits the difference between a garden and a patio.

Sweet and Vicious
Sweet and Vicious
Photograph: Courtesy Sweet & Vicious/Kai Liu Visual

Sweet & Vicious

Bars Lounges Nolita

This is an easygoing bar in a neighborhood that sometimes isn’t. It has a full complement of booze, so order what you want, but it’s best known for its frozen margaritas, served in Mason jars and usually topped with a cherry. And in light of recent local news, people have been known to smoke on its unexpectedly spacious back patio.

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Bacchus

Restaurants French Boerum Hill

Without any windows on its east or west walls, this Atlantic Avenue bistro is dimly lit any time of day, but still skews more toward a romantic wine cellar than, say, a scary bat cave. Make your way to the back, however and the light at the end of the tunnel is revealed to be a big, beautiful backyard garden anchored by the Platonic ideal of a leafy tree. Bacchus is so pretty, in fact, that they do a swift wedding business back there, so have a backup plan if your heart is set on dining outdoors in the area.

Popina
Popina
Photograph: Courtesy David Kaplan

Popina

Restaurants Italian Cobble Hill

This is exactly the kind of place people refer to as “off the beaten path” even though it’s about as close as you can get to a bus stop. The Columbia Waterfront District restaurant’s Italian-adjacent menu includes spaghetti with clams, paccheri with lamb sausage, and hot chicken Milanese, all available with wine, beer and cocktails in a large backyard peacefully distanced from the thoroughfare beyond the front door.

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Sweet Afton
Sweet Afton
Photograph: Courtesy Noah Speck

Sweet Afton

Bars Beer bars Astoria

Boldly claiming a name as “The Astoria Local,” Sweet Afton has seats out front on 34th Street, space for a few dozen inside, drinks, elevated bar food and a blue-hued back patio that’s photogenic enough for your Vaxtagram without looking like this is the moment you’ve been waiting for.

Wayla
Wayla
Photograph: Courtesy Wayla

Wayla

Restaurants Thai Lower East Side

Wayla opened to acclaim in 2019, diners and critics alike fawning over its homestyle Thai menu and chicly styled back patio that felt like a particularly fashionable friend’s coveted private outdoor space. This past year’s necessary pick-up and delivery options haven’t dampened a desire to dine amid its flora IRL.

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