There are few things more evocative of summer life in the city than hanging out on a rooftop with friends. Maybe it’s because expansive vistas that also feel secluded are hard to come by in the heart of the city, and the city is sometimes difficult to get out of. Echoing the sentiments of many builders and developers, the only recourse left for many of us concrete jungle dwellers is to go up.
Whether it’s a rooftop party in Brooklyn or a posh terrace in Midtown, the pull of going up, up and away from the drudge of the everyday is a common refrain in the summer in the city. The problem is, all rooftops are not created equally; there aren’t many things that are less relaxing or enjoyable than jostling for space and attention with New York’s tired workday masses around a crowded tiki, cabana, or speakeasy-style bar, perspiring, begging or haggling for service, possibly getting a drink or two spilled on you on a hot day, etc. We’ve all been there and I’m sure we’d rather not go back. Luckily, competition among New York’s new crop of boutique hotels has spurred a wholly appreciated rash of upscale rooftop lounges that stand in stark contrast to the adult fraternity party atmosphere so prevalent on rooftops across the city just ten years ago. Now NYC is dotted with an eclectic array of hidden rooftop oases in every neighborhood, configuration, and price-point, that are actually worth the trip. Here are a few of my favorites; maybe we’ll run into each other!
Upstairs at the Kimberly
145 East 50th Street, Midtown
The penthouse level of Midtown’s Kimberly Hotel is home to one of New York’s most elegant rooftop lounges, and some of its most artful cocktails. Upstairs at the Kimberly is ultra-modern and posh without being stuffy, the interior reaches are luxuriously appointed, and the spacious outdoor terrace offers unmatched views of Midtown Manhattan and the Chrysler Building.
The Pool Deck at the Empire Hotel
44 West 63rd Street, Upper West Side
It doesn’t get much more exclusive than the Pool Deck at the Upper West Side’s Empire Hotel. Located within shouting distance of Central Park and Lincoln Center, this upscale bi-level pool deck is equipped with a full bar, kitchen, plunge pool, palms, ferns, and cabanas that give the place kind of an early 60’s French Riviera vibe. While it’s only open to guests of the hotel, the roof deck can be reserved for private events, or you can just book a night for fun.
200 West 39th Street, Fashion District
A relatively new edition to the rooftop lounge/event space scene, The Skylark has wasted no time in carving a niche for itself far above the hustle and bustle of midtown. With subdued lighting and art-retro decor, the Skylark recalls Hollywood’s lost decadence, while steering clear of kitsch, proving that what is classic, is modern. Under the aegis of premier mixologist Johnny Swet, the cocktail menu is a colorful and surprising mix of new takes on old favorites; the ginger citrus punch is a must-try, and there is something for everyone on the Skylark’s short, savory menu.
The McKittrick Hotel/Gallow Green
530 West 27th Street, Chelsea
Lush with greenery, and just a little creepy, the Gallow Green rooftop garden might be one of the more unique rooftop adventures around, if a bit macabre. Located at the bewitching McKittrick Hotel, home to the critically-lauded immersive theatrical experience Sleep No More, Gallow Green has a foreboding vibe, and feels a little like going back in time or stepping into a secret garden. The sheer amount of plant life gives off an air of enchanted decadence; it’s the kind of place where you can get lost for a few hours. It might not be your everyday hangout but it’s a great option if you’re in the mood for something a little different to do with friends. Purchase tickets here for the Rooftop Brunch with live music on Saturday or Sunday, and watch out for ghosts.
VU46 at the Hotel at Times Square
59 West 46th Street, Times Square Theater District
If you’re unintentionally trapped in Times Square, and you can’t seem to get out no matter how hard you try, duck into The Hotel at Times Square and make a beeline for VU46. This rooftop escape is casual, and has nice views of midtown and the Empire State Building. Get in before the late afternoon rush.
The Press Lounge is a lot of fun and is a great place to meet up for a mid-day or afternoon refreshment. Simultaneously luxe and laid-back, the decor is clean, modern and comfortable, while the selection of seasonal cocktails and the small plates menu make the Press Lounge a destination for more than just its panoramic 360 degree views. And if you become overwhelmed by the beauty of a summer’s day, or just break a sweat, you can always scuttle back into the centrally-located glass encased indoor lounge.
Located atop Bryant Park‘s Refinery Hotel, the Refinery Rooftop is a bit different from most of the other places on this list as it is also a fully functional event space. This is a great spot to hear some of the city’s premier musicians. Refinery boasts crisp, comfortable decor, modular indoor and outdoor spaces that change shape depending on what’s going on, and a wide range of exciting cocktails developed by visionary mixologist Alex Ott who, as the hotel’s website so beautifully describes, “focuses on natural ingredients paired in surprising and refreshing combinations. Concoctions rooted in biochemistry can cleanse your palate, shift your mood, or evoke a childhood memory with every sip.”
The Rooftop Lounge and Bar at Pod 39
145 E 39th St.
If you enjoy watching the sunset while sipping a cocktail, surrounded by beautiful brick facades rising into the air, ivy-covered columns and stately arches reminiscent of a Spanish mission, or an M.C. Escher engraving, this is the place for you. The rooftop at Pod 39 is known for its friendly and attentive waitstaff and reasonably priced food and drink, but most people who go there fall in love with the way it looks. You can also head downstairs, and check out Salvation Taco, the newest and most out of character offering to date from pre-eminent New York restaurateurs Chef April Bloomfield and Ken Friedman, (the very talented folks behind The Spotted Pig and Breslin’s).
The Roof at the Viceroy Hotel
124 West 57th Street, Central Park West
There are days when the only view that will do is a view of Central Park. Gerber Group’s The Roof, perched high atop the Viceroy Hotel, and sporting a design inspired by the contours of a luxury yacht, offers stunning views of the city’s crowned jewel, (not to mention some of its most coveted real estate). The food menu is amusingly limited, in favor of an “expansive collection of small-batch spirits, regionally brewed craft beers, global wine offerings and a rotating selection of Gerber Group’s classic and modern cocktails that highlight market fresh ingredients,” according to their website. A quick glance at the drink menu is confirmation that the Roof can truly boast one of the booziest ones around; but don’t worry, if things begin to go a bit awry, you can always book a room downstairs.
Inspired by the life and style of faux-legendary world traveler, collector, Shanghai socialite, and all-around party animal Madame Ning, the cosmopolitan and colorful Salon de Ning draws together disparate aesthetics from around the globe to create a world that is at once surreal, swirling, vibrant, boisterous, sumptuous, and chic. The Salon features 4 semi-private themed rooms, stunning skyline views over Fifth Avenue, and an eclectic cocktail menu that is as kaleidoscopic as the space itself.