After a long winter (and several additional mini-winters) it’s that time again in Winnipeg…patio season.
Oh, how we love our patios! Much like that classic ballsy guy wearing shorts a little too prematurely on a still-brisk spring day, Winnipeg restaurants are all too eager to drag out the umbrellas and plastic furniture. They know that Winnipeg restaurant- goers can’t fathom anything more enjoyable or relaxing than ingesting food and drink…outdoors.
I, on the other hand, can’t fathom anything in our civic culture that is more overrated.
Why am I such a summer downer? Because Winnipeg patios are not what patios are meant to be.
The origin of the ‘patio’ is Spanish: a paved and enclosed terrace beside a building, or inner courtyard open to the sky. It evokes cooling, lush vines, and bubbling stone fountains surrounded by glowing votive candles. A private, calm atmosphere and perfect getaway from the hot, busy day.
This I understand.
But, sadly, this is almost never what you find in Winnipeg.
In this city the definition of “patio” is up for interpretation, but seems to fall under, “Any garbage, tiny piece of paved property attached to a business."
Winnipeg patios are in parking lots, jutting off chain restaurants.
They are in alleyways, next to parkades and waste disposal units with the aroma of trash floating on the night breeze.
They are in direct midday sunlight, their Budweiser emblazoned umbrellas somehow doing little to block the searing rays that burn pasty patrons (me).
Some Winnipeg businesses push the definition of patio even further, placing one or two very sad metal tables and rickety chairs on their sidewalk, inches away from the road.
Indeed almost ALL Winnipeg patios are situated in close proximity to a busy street or in some cases highway. Few are actually enclosed and quiet, meaning that along with the sun, you are also soaking up exhaust fumes, street dust, sounds of traffic zooming, subwoofers, douchebag mufflers, construction and sirens.
Then there’s the plastic, sun bleached patio furniture that sticks to your sweaty summer skin and is always somewhat dirty or covered with those little gauzy seeds that fall from elm trees. Hooray?
Add to that our difficult environment: prairie winds blowing drinks over, sending napkins dancing down the street, epidermis piercing mosquitos and carnivorous wasps hovering menacingly over your chicken teriyaki.
Yet, I do understand why we subject ourselves to this.
We’re desperate to wring every drop of fine weather from the calendar, so we’re willing to put up with anything. And we delude ourselves into thinking a Boston Pizza patio is akin to people watching on a Roman piazza or the Champs Elysees.
We deserve better, Winnipeg.
So, until conditions improve I’ll take your finest window seat indoors, thank you. I’ll enjoy the air conditioning, music and ambiance that I am technically paying for and I’ll be perfectly happy.
Because not all patios are created equal.
And that guy peeing beside a dumpster does not count as a fountain.
Jane Testar is a writer and performer with the Winnipeg sketch comedy troupe, Hot Thespian Action, an improviser with local improv troupe, Outside Joke, and the host of the CBC Comedy Factory Podcast.