Retractable walls and windows mean al fresco dining isn't just on patios anymore

Whether it's window walls that open onto the sidewalk or garage doors that slide all the way up, more restaurants and bars are creating spaces that let the outdoors in.

It's a way to offer customers an outdoor dining experience much more enjoyable than actually dining outside, says Cameron Mitchell Restaurants executive vice president David Miller. Patio dining, after all, often means enduring the elements-glaring sun, sticky humidity and buzzing insects.

Open-air dining has become more popular over the last decade, Miller says, but what customers really seem to love are terraces and other spaces where they're still surrounded by the finishes of the restaurant-real tables rather than patio furniture and ceilings that match the rest of the dining room. Diners get to enjoy the restaurant experience along with pleasant weather.

It's a great option for space-constrained neighborhoods, like the Short North, where sidewalk seating isn't possible, Miller says. "But we wanted to give that feel of being in a vibrant, urban space like you'd find in San Francisco or New York City or Chicago," he adds, "that cafe urban-ness."

The solution at Marcella's and the Pearl was to create walls that can easily open to the sidewalk about half the year thanks to beefed-up air conditioning and heating in those window-side areas. When winters are mild, Marcella's windows have stayed open up to eight months of the year.

And if you ever wonder why you're not bombarded by flies while you're eating or covered in mosquito bites after leaving, Miller explains that air vents in the window openings create an invisible wall that keeps most bugs outside.

"They're easily the most popular seats in the restaurant-even when the windows are closed," Miller says. "They're be-seen tables, fun people-watching seats."

Here's a look at where to take advantage of indoor-outdoor dining around Columbus.

Mission Coffee Co.

Part of the city's burgeoning artisan coffee scene, Mission has a sophisticated, urban feel with a rustic edge. The whole front wall is a garage door that opens on warm days, allowing passersby to peek into the brick-walled coffeehouse space with rough-hewn wood tables and comfy couches.

What to Eat: While coffee is the main focus, Mission does offer a few baked goods. Flaky croissants and crumbly scones go great with coffee, or go for Eleni-Christina bagels with cream cheese.

What to Drink: If you've ever read about a trendy coffee brewing method and wondered where you can try it in Columbus, the answer is at Mission. They'll make pour-over drip coffees, retro Chemex pour-overs, siphon coffee or thick French press coffee-all in addition to traditional drip coffee and espresso drinks. It's easy to become overwhelmed at the brew bar, but the helpful baristas at Mission are happy to recommend a drink to suit any taste.

11 Price Ave., Short North, 614-300-0648,


Marcella's plum location on a Short North corner gives it two streetside walls of retractable windows. That means the entire cocktail lounge area gets to bask in the breeze and watch the crowds walk by. Grab a high-top table or a seat at the bar and take advantage of the Italian spot's great happy-hour deals-half off selected food and drink from 4 to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday.

What to Eat: Small plates are the way to go. Mini crocks of assorted sweet green and salt-cured olives are served warm and pleasantly oily. And the scene-stealing Melted Pecorino is a beautiful spread-start with a crostini, smear on some gooey cheese, top with a slice of green apple and drizzle in truffle honey.

What to Drink: Split a mezzolitro (half bottle) or litro (full bottle) of wine. Or try a citrusy cocktail. The Tuscan Limonata combines house-made limoncello with citrus vodka, Peroni and lemon juice, while the Grapefruit Basil Fizz pairs grapefruit-infused vodka with fresh Italian basil.

615 N. High St., Short North, 614-223-2100,

The Pearl

Only a few tables in the Pearl's long, narrow dining room are lucky enough to be situated next to the open-air windows. But you can still enjoy the outdoor ambiance while waiting for a table at this crowded hotspot, as a few leather couches and chairs are placed directly in front of the retractable front wall.

What to Eat: Nibble on a few snacks and starters-we love the Devils on Horseback (bacon-wrapped dates) and Hand-Cranked Sausage Sampler served with grainy mustard-then split a few slices of the Pearl's amazing pies. The Brown Sugar Pie is a buttery delight with a salty-sweet oatmeal cookie crust, or order the berry pie du jour (a la mode, of course).

What to Drink: The Pearl unveiled two new cocktail punches for the summer months. So if they're still on the menu, get one (namely the getaway-instpired Pinapple Rum Punch). But you can't go wrong with the classic and refreshing Moscow Mule, served in a traditional copper cup.

641 N. High St., Short North, 614-227-0151,

Pistacia Vera

When the temperature is just right, the wind is not too strong and the bugs are not out in full force, the picture-perfect German Village patisserie will open its south wall of windows. In other words, it doesn't happen too often. But when it does, there's no better place to hang out.

What to Eat: There are two ways to go here. Sweet tooths will want to splurge on a plate of pastry creations-and one macaron isn't going to cut it. You'll need at least three of the delicate French cookies in various seasonal flavors, plus a cannele (a rum-spiked caramelized custard tea cake) or a slice of apple galette. Or go for a savory brunch dish, served daily from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Best is the Tomato Provencal Baked Eggs-decadent eggs baked with cream, herbs, garlic and tomato fondue.

What to Drink: Pistacia offers a full menu of coffee and espresso. But hot days call for cold drinks. Go for a house-brewed iced tea in black or green-pomegranate, or a caffeinated, cold-brew iced coffee.

541 S. Third St., German Village, 614-220-9070,

Pint House

One of the Short North's newest bars is a beer garden boasting a retractable roof, which allows the sunshine to pour in and makes for what amounts to an indoor patio. Pretty cool. The front windows also open right onto High Street, replicating the roomy patios of next-door neighbors Union and Haiku.

What to Drink: This place-owned by CGS Group, the same folks who run most of the Arena District bars along Park Street-is all about the beer. Nearly 50 beers are on tap, most of them served in giant 21-ounce mugs for $6.

What to Eat: Choose a few pub-grub snacks for the table to soak up all that beer. A pretzel sampler with three dips is good, and Skillet Mac & Cheese is a warm and gooey favorite. Or continue the beer theme and order a Beer & Cheese Pizza topped with bacon and caramelized onions.

780 N. High St., Short North, 614-429-3986,

Seventh Son Brewing Co.

Most every day in the temperate months, the Italian Village bar and brewery opens the garage doors in the former auto shop space to create a truly indoor-outdoor dining experience. The fun continues out back on the patio, where a fire pit is almost always roaring.

What to Drink: Definitely order one of the hip brewery's own beers. New brews are added often, so there's always something different to try. Our favorites: a slightly fruity super pale ale called Humulus Nimbus and the brown-sugary oat brown ale Stone Fort. Also great at brunchtime are spicy Bloody Marys made with your choice of liquor.

What to Eat: A rotating lineup of food trucks set up in the parking lot. Regulars include That Food Truck (check out Smoked Brisket Benedict at brunch or the Big Black Wolf at dinner), Swoop! (go for the mini lamb corndogs or the crab-and-sweet-pea falafel) and Ajumama (Bulgogi Cheesesteak with a side of bibimballs is where it's at).

1101 N. Fourth St., Italian Village, 614-421-2337,