Andre Morris, president of Varran Media, had a challenging puzzle to solve last December: where to throw a Manhattan party for his VIP client, hip-hop star 50 Cent. Morris knew that in order to please the celebrity rapper, he'd need a venue with the right mix of sophistication and tranquility; that's why, once his search began, he decided to "go up"--that is, to look at rooftop bars.
High above the bustling din of Midtown Manhattan, Morris found what he was looking for atop the 21st floor of the Strand Hotel. The Top of the Strand had a retractable roof, chestnut wood-box planters, flickering hurricane lanterns, plush banquettes in wooly Ralph Lauren upholsteries and an overall graceful atmosphere designed by Sex and the City set designer Lydia Marks, which added to the rooftop bar's selling points. But it was the awe-inspiring views of the city's skyline that sealed the deal.
"The moment you step off the elevator, you feel as if you're transported to a South Beach, hot spot," said Morris. "But once you look up, you're in the shadow of the Empire State Building."
New York is just one of the U.S. cities that's seen a profusion of new rooftop bars in recent years. Residents use them as sanctuaries from street-level hubbub and as after-hours "offices" for conducting business; tourists appreciate them for their aerial vantage point over landmarks and local goings-on. Manhattan alone seems to have sprouted a new rooftop bar for every type--whether you want a glass of champagne in a manicured English roof garden with views of Central Park (The Surrey on the Upper East Side), artisan cocktails with an arty downtown crowd while gaping at the Brooklyn Bridge (Jimmy's in Soho) or martinis with a mixed Midtown crowd while admiring the ambition-stirring views of the iconic Empire State Building (Top of the Strand).
But New York is not the only rooftop game in town. Elegant sky-high bars have cult appeal in cities as varied as Portland, Oregon (with its Departure Bar, an architectural gem that sits atop the Nines Hotel) and Chicago (where patrons at the Peninsula Hotel's Shanghai Terrace gaze over the city's iconic Water Tower and John Hancock Building).
Some rooftop oases--like La Fonda's Bell Tower Bar in Santa Fe, or High, at the Hotel Erwin in Venice Beach, California--have such breathtaking sunset views you might forget you're in a city at all.
Our list of the country's best rooftop bars includes all these options, and more. Each venue offers its own particular reminder that getting up above it all is a rare treat. It's coming down that's the problem.
-- Adam H. Graham
Far from sceney South Beach (but not too far), this stylish and dignified club occupies a perch 50 stories high in Miami’s Viceroy Hotel. The property, which opened in 2009 in the relaxed Brickell neighborhood, has interiors designed by Kelly Wearstler—and her characteristic Hollywood Regency touches are everywhere: grained marble, Japanese woodblock–inspired prints, upholstery in a bright modern palette of turquoise and yellow. But the open-air lounge’s spectacular vistas of the Intracoastal Waterway, Biscayne Bay and some truly spectacular sunsets are all Mother Nature’s doing. Green curry short ribs and coconut mojitos make for ideal sunset fare. After 11 p.m., the tranquil bar turns into a club, where celebrity DJs like Paul Oakenfold spin until the 5 a.m. closing. Cocktails from $17; viceroyhotelsandresorts.com. To see more stunning rooftop bars, click here.
Views of the Empire State Building don’t get any better than this. Designed by Sex and the City set designer Lydia Marks, the Strand Hotel’s 21st-floor perch has all the punch and intoxication of Midtown Manhattan with none of the gritty hassle. The bar’s retractable roof gives it a year-round versatility popular with the after-work crowd and tourists waiting for the ESB’s light display to ignite the evening. Cocktails like the St. Germain–infused Fitzgerald paired with nibbles like bleu cheese–stuffed dates create a combo that is ideal for skyline gazing and grazing. Cocktails from $15; topofthestrand.com. To see more stunning rooftop bars, click here.
Rarefied views over Santa Fe’s adobe rooftops and ochre-striped Jemez Mountains are the draw at this bar, set in a vacated belfry atop the city’s tallest adobe-style building. The sunset hour is prime time here—not just for the vistas but for the legendary Tequila Sunsets, which can be upgraded from a selection of rare tequilas behind the bar. But Santa Fe ales and house-made sangria, not to mention homemade tortillas and salsa verde, are welcome sundown companions, too. Cocktails from $10; lafondasantafe.com. To see more stunning rooftop bars, click here.
For arty Manhattanites (and Gotham visitors who don’t venture above 14th Street) this indoor/outdoor space, which opened atop the 18th floor of Soho’s James Hotel in 2011, epitomizes creative cool. Lounges around the teak-decked pool offer stunning views of the historic Woolworth Building and the Brooklyn Bridge; artisanal ingredients infuse the cocktails (try the Mexican Bee Hive, made with single-barrel tequila, lavender syrup and a chunk of honeycomb). Small plates from in-house restaurant David Burke—lobster and fennel dumplings, pretzel crab cakes and maple-bacon dates served with dollops of peanut butter—are equally delicious. Cocktails from $17; jimmysoho.com. To see more stunning rooftop bars, click here.
Angelenos have a wealth of rooftop bars to choose from, including the perennially sceney celebrity magnets at the Roosevelt, Mondrian and Standard hotels. But when it opened in 2010, the High opted for a more relaxed SoCal rooftop experience. The breezy expanse atop Venice Beach’s Hotel Erwin overlooks the Pacific Ocean—arguably L.A.’s biggest star. Drinks have a laid-back, surfer-style vibe: Hinano (a Tahitian lager), Chardonnays from Monterey and Strawberry Mules pair well with homemade guacamole and carne asada tacos. The snug banquettes are draped with blankets and punctuated by space heaters, just in case SoCal’s notorious June gloom descends. Cocktails from $11; jdvhotels.com. To see more stunning rooftop bars, click here.
Getting high in Chicago becomes an Asian affair at the elegant new Shanghai Terrace, which opened in the Peninsula Hotel in 2011 and remains a chic roost lined with cabanas whose red curtains catch the Windy City’s nightly breezes. The bar fills each evening with Gold Coast residents and their visitors who nibble kung pao chicken buns, sip ginger juleps and lychee sake martinis and gawk at the city’s Magnificent Mile landmarks, including the Water Tower and John Hancock Building. Cocktails from $12; peninsula.com. To see more stunning rooftop bars, click here.
Utah’s maroon, snow-dusted Wasatch Mountains look close enough to touch from this après-ski lounge in Park City’s Old Town. The new heated rooftop deck, which opened in 2011, features a toasty charcoal fire pit and glass-tiled hot tubs. There are complimentary hooded fleece robes for patrons who want to linger outdoors while enjoying a hand-rolled cigar, plate of oysters or glass of Opus One after a quick plunge. Cocktails from $10; theskylodge.com. To see the rest of Departures' list of stunning rooftop bars, click here.
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