Pop stars in meat dresses do not drink at Psycho Suzi's.

But the cheeky tiki bar's riverfront patio has been so packed in recent weeks that owner Leslie Bock says it sometimes feels like "Lady Gaga is in the house."

Nope. It's just us. Crazy Minnesotans. Warm weather, cold weather, rain, sleet, snow, tornadoes -- put a patio in front of us, we will sit on it.

This year's new outdoor destinations all have been swarmed by patio lovers cooped up far too long. And therein lies the problem. Bars like Suzi's, the new downtown Crave and Bloomington's massive Cowboy Jack's have been mob scenes.

Like many a bargoer, I've circled the blocks surrounding Psycho Suzi's searching for a parking spot that sometimes never comes. Bock said she's well aware that people are walking miles after finding a space.

"Maybe my next business should be a shuttle-bus service," Bock joked.

So what's all the fuss about at these big, busy patios? Let's find out.

CRAVE

The scene: When this suburban powerhouse opened its downtown Minneapolis location in May, owner Kam Talebi said he wanted it to be a little bit "edgier." The pounding club music and packed rooftop is what he was talking about. During happy hour and dinner, Crave is an ideal spot for breezy, outdoor relaxing. Late-night, however, it's party time for the real housewives of Minnetonka.

Best seat: A corner table on the railing above 9th Street and Hennepin Avenue gives you views of the night sky plus the neon-lit theater district below.

Drink: If your group is big enough, order one of the rooftop's $59 specialty pitchers (serves eight). The Prickly Pear is made from Sauza Gold tequila, fresh lime and pear puree.

Be warned: Talebi originally promoted this Crave as a restaurant first, raging-dance-club last. But if you're planning to nibble on the kitchen's great ahi tuna salad late at night, be prepared to chase it down with some pulsating beats.

Factoid: Crave is the rare Twin Cities restaurant with a full kitchen built onto its rooftop. Food is served until closing time (2 a.m. on weekends).

COWBOY JACK'S

The scene: The former Steak & Ale in Bloomington is now a Wild West saloon so elaborately crafted it makes Toby Keith's look like a barn with bar stools. This cousin to Cowboy Slim's in Uptown Minneapolis features a patio three times bigger. It's filled weekend nights with suburban bargoers, motorcycle lovers, servers in miniskirts, but very few cowboys. That hasn't stopped anyone from riding the mechanical bull.

Best seat: To cope with these chilly summer nights, Jack's features a couple of fire pits to keep customers warm. So cuddle up.

Drink: It's hard to pass up $2 American beers during the daily late-night happy hour (10 p.m.-midnight).

Be warned: The parking lot is huge, but the weekend crowd fills it up, so don't forget about the valet service. Don't park in nearby hotel lots (you might get towed).

Factoid: Much of the patio deck was built with reclaimed barn wood. Owner Chris Diebold and his motorcycle crew routinely ride the Minnesota countryside looking for broken-down barns to salvage. The look gives Jack's an authentic rustic feel, even without any cowboys.

PSYCHO SUZI'S

The scene: Northeast bars are all about the neighborhood. But the majority of people packing this riverfront patio come from all corners of the metro. This is the Six Flags of tiki bars, with replica Easter Island stone heads, a foghorn to hail passing boats and enough seats (335) to fill five Northeast dive bars.

Best seat: They don't take reservations, so getting a spot along the riverbank is sort of like winning the Powerball. But if you do manage the impossible, the views are unmatched in Minneapolis (never mind the scrap yard across the water).

Drink: The newest tiki drink on the menu is the Beachcomber -- strong as hell, but tastes like a strawberry-pineapple Life Saver.

Be warned: Even before you encounter the grueling wait on the patio, there's the parking issue. Suzi's lot fills up quick, so be prepared to spend part of your evening circling the neighborhood for an open patch of curb. Or, you could just go for the $5 valet.

Factoid: Own a boat? Suzi's welcomes customers arriving by all modes of floating transportation. Just tie up to the dock below (it's free).

 

thorgen@startribune.com • 612-673-7909 • Twitter: @tomhorgen