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Mission 1: Kirkwood Bar & Grill

3 pints (out of four)
Pint scale: 1 = totally flat; 2 = glass half full;
3 = big buzz; 4 = beer-goggled goodness
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Sunday showers almost put a damper on our first outing. To top it off, we found out Liza was stuck in the Lone Star state on vacation, and Jessica's return from Russia had been delayed in New York during a plane change.

Despite it all, 60 percent of our team kicked off the night (though it felt more like 50 percent, thanks to a slightly tipsy, post-Cubs game Ted), and we ended up having a great time. We were even treated to a wonderful surprise as the beer garden was closing: Jessica came waltzing into the garden, wheelie suitcase in tow. Now that's dedication!

Garden: If you're expecting a typical beer garden layout like Schoolyard, one of Kirkwood's sister spots, think again. Kirkwood Bar & Grill's alfresco option is spacious, inviting and sports a well thought out design. (Read: It's no fenced-in yard with wobbly, warped picnic tables.)

This spot's more like a tale of two beer gardens: One side's fairly casual with high-top tables, wrought iron chairs and wicker couches; the other is swanky, with super-low, cushy couches and additional table seating, plus a trellised fence to provide some privacy from the street.

As the sun went down, tables on the loungy side were lit with candles, providing a warm and fuzzy I-don't-know-you-but-I'd-like-to-change-that feeling. There's also a fairly large bar in the middle of the garden to provide quick drink service; later this summer look for a replica of the indoor bar to extend outside. The trees and greenery provided a nice backyard ambience despite the brown ivy on the trellises.

Crowd: A Sunday evening brings a different crowd than a weekday, or even a Friday or Saturday night. Earlier in the evening, the place was full of peeps from the Cubs game and nearby Belmont/Sheffield Music Festival, generally in their early twenties to mid-twenties.

As the night wore on, the patio lounge turned into industry night, and a more mature and slightly clubby crowd showed up. The other half of the garden, as well as the indoor area, drew yuppie Lakeview locals.

No doubt when college football season begins it'll be another story entirely, as Huskers and Hoosiers fans make themselves at home. (The bar flies flags for the University of Nebraska and Indiana University.)

Entertainment: No formal games, but we did witness a food fight. And a girl licking whipped cream off of a guy's bald head. That was, uh, interesting, to say the least. As was the delicious round of Hoosier shots we did (Effen Black Cherry vodka, Red Bull and cherry juice; $5 on Sundays; $4 on Wednesdays; $8 regularly). Jessica blames these (and jet lag) for the fact that she bit it not once, but twice on the way out the door.

Beer: They had bottles of Ted's favorite summer brew, Leinenkugel's Sunset Wheat ($5), so he was a happy camper. And you should've seen Kevin's face light up when he heard they had Cubs-branded Old Style tall boys ($3). Freakin' tall-boy cans! The only better beer delivery mechanisms we've seen at a bar are the bowling pin-shaped bottles of Bud at 10 Pin and the 40s at Elm Street Liquors.

Kirkwood also has more than a dozen wines ($7-$9 by the glass; all bottles under $40), most of which Shannon sampled. And by "sampled," we mean "had at least two glasses."

Food: We were BIG fans of the Skillet Cookie dessert--a huge chocolate-chip cookie smothered with vanilla ice cream, whipped cream, chocolate and caramel sauce ($7.50). Yum! The buffalo chicken rolls with blue cheese dipping sauce were also a hit--and they were a $5 Sunday special (regularly $7.50). Our absolute fave were the Reuben rolls ($5 Sundays; regularly $7.50) the traditional contents of a Reuben sandwich bundled up in a crispy wonton roll served with Thousand Island dressing.

Service: Our friendly and accommodating server, Moira, was a hit. Not only was she a hottie, but she was also attentive and provided quick service. It's clear that customer service is a top priority at Kirkwood: We felt well-attended-to, despite the fact that one of our entrees (a delicious-sounding black bean burger) never showed up.

We were, however, a little disappointed that the staff started kicking people out of the beer garden at 9:15 p.m. for the industry night event that never quite got going (in large part due to the heavy rains earlier that day).

Bottom line: We'd definitely go back to this swanky beer garden––especially since we heard they'll be adding several flat-screen TVs outside, plus a retractable roof. Overall, a wide selection of tasty food and a friendly, attentive staff make this a must-see. So much so, in fact, that Jessica hurried home from Russia for a peek.

[ The Beer Garden Guides are (in back) Kevin Hastie, Ted Perlstein, (in front, left to right) Liza Bunting, Jessica Christenson and Shannon Ridgeway. They are a Metromix Reader Review crew that critiques what's cool in outdoor drinking through June. Your job? Let us know if you agree with the crew by leaving your own reader reviews.]

>> Check out Metromix next Wednesday to see what the Guides think about O'Donovan's. Leave your Reader Review at metromix.com now.

Originally published June 6, 2007.

metromix@tribune.com