High up on the top of buildings throughout the U.S. is some prime real estate that many bars and restaurants are using to their advantage. Complete with beautiful views, rooftop bars and lounges are quickly becoming destinations in any city with people flocking to them day and night.
“Very few places have a piece of real estate like Roof,” says Lou Carrier, chief operating officer of the 298-room Wit Hotel in Chicago. It was “built to take advantage of the Chicago cityscape.” Outdoor dining is always very popular, adds David Marsh, general manager of food and beverage operations at the 331-room Nines hotel in Portland, Oregon, which features the Asian Departure Restaurant with a rooftop deck. “Where you have an opportunity to merge a view of cityscapes, mountains and hills, that itself becomes completely unique.” With the view as the draw, these locations are keeping people happy with music and drinks, while drawing an interesting mix of locals and tourists.
High in the Sky
Location really does mean everything: and that’s no different for rooftop bars that have an advantage to more traditional outdoor venues. “Al fresco dining comes with distractions that aren’t always pleasant,” notes Marsh about the street-level noise that can distract customers from enjoying their meal. “If you are 15 floors or more above street level, there is a lot more serenity. It allows you to choose the environment you want to be in.”
Branimir Kostic, general manager of the Upstairs at the Kimberly Hotel, a 188-room hotel in New York, agrees, “A rooftop bar in New York City is a great thing to have. There aren’t many open spaces in the city that you can enjoy without committing to a full dinner. For us, you can just come upstairs and enjoy your night or afternoon.”
But all of this comes with its challenge of dealing with the elements—especially if you plan to be open all year. “We are open year-round—with a retractable roof and heated floors,” Kostic explains.
At Departure, they didn’t want an awning to hinder the look and feel of the lounge, so they opted for high-wind rated umbrellas. “One of the unique challenges for us was that the wind is much more prevalent on the roof than at street level,” says Marsh. “They are beautiful pieces of work in and of themselves and we use them often.”
At the Wit Hotel, the outside space features bar height fire pits where some 25 people can gather around to stay warm and enjoy the view and there’s often a wait on weekend nights. There is also indoor section of the rooftop lounge that features the same views, with the comfort of the indoors.
Eating and Drinking
Great views aside, rooftop locales are often the place for great drinks. At the Upstairs, Kostic says the draw is that it mixes “stunning views of the Chrysler Building as the star of the show … with great cocktails.”
Most operators noted that wine and cocktails are the most popular quaffs outdoors. For example, Marsh sells a lot of sparking wine, Champagne and Prosecco at Departure. Specialty cocktails are also very popular and they features 15 drinks on the menu ($8 to $12). Top orders include the Tasho Macho, made with Thai Chile-infused Belvedere Vodka, muddled Thai Basil, fresh citrus juice and Cock and Bull Ginger Beer; and the Departure, made with Aviation Gin, fresh lime juice, green chartreuse and Luxardo Marachino Liqueur.
Kostic sees a similar trend, with people flocking primarily to cocktails and wine in the outdoor area. “People in this neighborhood like to come up for the specialty cocktails and wine on our menu,” he says. They change the specialty cocktail list seasonally ($16), including the Pomme d’Or, Upstairs’ version of the Sidecar, made with Hennessey VSOP, Poire William, organic apple cider with lemon and cloves.
They also have the chef on board to create small plates, which he describes as American with a European touch, including Kobe Burger Sliders, Spiced Duck Cigars and Stuffed Mushrooms with Goat Cheese (priced from $7 to 24).
At Roof, they pride themselves on quality food and beverages as well. Carrier boasts that they hired highly trained mixologists to ensure their customers are getting the best of the best. “We have a wide slice of consumers to accommodate and our programming needs to represent: including the food and drinks,” he says.
Cocktails reign at Roof and the list and options include (priced at $8 to $15), including Strange Bedfellows, made with Del Maguey Mezcal and Bärenjäger Honey Liqueur; and Ethical Dilemma, made with Finlandia Vodka and ginger beer.
At Departure, the two decks cater to different crowds, one features tables for a sit down dinner and the other has a lounge feel. At the lounge, they feature small plates that create a “social dining experience,” says Marsh.
Catering to the Crowd
Timing is everything on the rooftop, as many are high above hotels and cater to a diverse mix of people throughout the day and week. Departure, for example, is open Tuesday through Saturday and the crowd builds as the week goes on. “We have so many guests just come up to see the view,” explains Marsh. They also feature a happy hour from 4 to 6 p.m. daily and again at 10 p.m.
Meanwhile at the Wit, Carrier describes an increase in intensity as the night goes on. “We want to cater to our core segments and that often evolves over the day of the week or time of day,” he explains. “The weekend is very different from earlier in the week—programming is very important.” Someone going to the Wit in the early afternoon—often hotel guests and business professionals—will enjoy low, mellow music and in the evening they feature a combo of DJs and live music to entice the younger set.
At Upstairs, weekends feature DJs and tend to bring in a more fashion-forward crowd. “These are our biggest nights,” explains Kostic, noting that they are beginning to build a nice brunch crowd on weekend. It “can transform the place into something different.” And success, as Carrier puts it well, “is rooted in great products and services with a fantastic setting.”