Hot spot: A patio for all seasons
Maggie Pawelek of Bensenville and John Eiden of Libertyville look over the menus on the heated outdoor patio at Casa Bonita.
Casa Bonita Restaurant and Tequila Bar
633 N Milwaukee Ave., Libertyville
11 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday; 11 a.m.-2 a.m. Fridays-Saturday
(847) 362-4400; casabonitalibertyville.com
Updated: January 31, 2013 12:01PM
“Baby, it’s warm outside”
Apologies to Frank Loesser, but that’s the line if you’re on the outdoor patio at Libertyville’s Casa Bonita Restaurant.
Temperature there generally hovers near 80 degrees, thanks to a heating system devised by the restaurant’s owner, Pat Patterson.
With total disregard for subzero plunges, snow, rain, or whatever Chicago weather might throw out, Patterson keeps that patio, which seats 75, open for dining all year round.
New Year’s Eve 2013, for instance. The outdoor temperature was, optimistically, 19 degrees. Not exactly balmy.
“The patio was packed,” recalls Patterson. And the patio temperature was balmy — pushing 80.
In fact, adds Patterson, “there’s always a wait for patio seating.”
That’s been true since the place opened three years ago, overlooking Milwaukee Avenue, on the northern tip of the Libertyville business district. Patterson notes that it’s perfectly placed to kick back and enjoy a bit of people-watching, particularly during the town’s First Friday events.
Kids like the patio for its proximity to the occasional sound and light show provided by an ambulance or fire truck dealing with some emergency.
People-watching is good inside the restaurant, too. A former Chicago Bear is a regular. “Dan Jiggetts comes in here about once a month,” says Patterson. “And every few months the Bears reserve the bar on Thursdays.”
Patterson, whose day job is running a contracting company, also in Libertyville, built Casa Bonita at the instigation and inspiration of his wife, Alicia Patterson, who’s also closely involved with running the restaurant.
The place serves up top quality Mexican food, and at its bar, a palm-roofed Cancun palapa, nothing but top-of-the-line tequilas. Patterson credits his wife’s faith in the project for getting Casa Bonita started. “She rolled the dice,” he says.
And so far, they’ve won.
Rather than close the patio just for a mere spell of cold weather come fall, Patterson went to work. He spent a couple of months researching, testing and selecting combinations of heating devices that would keep his customers toasty, happy — and sitting on the patio.
He found hanging heaters that run off natural gas, and large-size standup patio heaters – designed specifically for outdoor warming – that run on propane, and installed them. “Each table has its own switch, so customers can turn the heat on or off when they want to,” he says.
A problem emerged. “On colder nights,” he recalls,” I had people telling me, ‘It’s warm up above, but the feet are a little chilly.’”
More research, more testing and soon Patterson located footwarmers that also run off his natural gas line. “They put out 18,000 BTUs each,” he says.
Feet are now as warm as other body parts. Between the hanging, standing and under-table heaters, says Patterson, “We’re getting about 100,000 BTUs per table.”
All this heat is surprisingly cheap. “Each of the big heaters only costs me about $6 a night to run,” says Patterson. A $12 tank of propane, he adds, gives him “two solid nights. It’s very efficient.”
He’s also designed a removable, glass windbreaker that shields customers from occasional icy gusts, rain or snow. But above that, the patio is open to raw, fresh air.
For Patterson, all this heat is simply another way to give his customers that something extra, an antidote to the cabin fever cold weather brings. “Dinner on the patio,” he explains, “breaks up the winter.”