America’s Coolest Rooftop Bars
When the golden hour hits on summer evenings, a ritual unfolds in cities across America: cubicle dwellers rush for the exits; lines form waiting for elevators to open; and social media is flooded with images of backlit skyscrapers and bright cocktails. It’s rooftop time.
The coolest rooftops, like D.C.’s Jack Rose—with a 1,400-plus spirits collection that encourages policy wonks to unwind—have a way of amplifying your typical bar experience. Drinks are more piquant, conversations a tad more interesting, the sunsets and fresh air intoxicating. They provide a vertical respite far from all the life that happens on ground.
Sometimes, it’s hotels that have mastered the art of high-altitude escape, mixing inventive bartenders with energetic DJs, a stylish crowd, and, of course, a stellar view. Almost every block in Manhattan seems to have its vaunted rooftop. Lately, the terrace at Sean MacPherson’s trendy Jane Hotel has the West Side buzzing, thanks to a boho-chic design and a Hudson River panorama. For Brooklyn’s take on cool, head to Ides at the Wythe Hotel; the locally sourced menu by Andrew Tarlow, of cult-hit Marlow and Sons fame, is worth the wait alone.
In Chicago, when winter’s death grip finally loosens, locals head skyward. Join them this summer at newcomer IO Urban Roofscape, atop the Godfrey Hotel, for madcap mixologist Riley Huddleston’s margarita with habanero salt air foam.
Rooftops are always in season in L.A., where a 1927 Spanish Gothic building downtown got the Ace Hotel treatment, complete with a Middle Eastern motif and sexy pool scene. The cool kids in Charleston, SC, meanwhile, can be found at Upper King Street’s Stars Restaurant & Rooftop Bar, which mixes drinks with herbs grown on-site.
One taste, and you may never come down.
The coterie of chefs at Juvia may hail from royal culinary houses—Boulud, Morimoto, Ducasse—but it’s the sleek aesthetic that earned this quintessential SoBe spot a James Beard Award. On the penthouse level of a Herzog & de Meuron–designed parking garage, Venezuelan architect Alejandro Barrios-Carrero channeled Miami’s Latin spirit: Brazilian wood floors, a violet amethyst-topped bar, and a spectacular 22-foot vertical garden. At night, the South Beach It List comes out for house-music DJs and overflowing bottles of Veuve Clicquot. Bring your black card.
Frolik Kitchen and Cocktails, Seattle
Summers on the Puget Sound are downright idyllic, and downtown Seattle’s new—and only—rooftop bar breaks with the city’s rough-hewn mold. On the fifth floor of the artsy, just-opened Motif hotel, Frolik’s splashes of bright color (purple stools, yellow-accented couches) and modern flourishes (LED-lit bar) evoke Hollywood glitz more than Pacific Northwest chill. The patio is more playful, outfitted with orange Ping-Pong tables and shuffleboard courts. And if it does get damp and chilly, huddle up next to one of the glass-walled fireplaces and order another Dark and Stormy.
The Skylark, Manhattan (Midtown)
A slew of chic rooftop openings—including the Refinery Hotel in 2013 and the Archer Hotel’s Spyglass—has revived a once-dormant section of town with some after-hours buzz. And newcomer The Skylark is the crown jewel. Nightlife veteran David Rabin (Lambs Club, Jimmy at the James) is behind the concept, which pairs an upscale summer cookout menu (mac and cheese cupcakes, root beer Old-Fashioneds) with 270-degree views encompassing the Hudson River, Empire State Building, and Times Square. Raining? Head downstairs to the Mad Men–mod lounge outfitted with Midcentury Modern furnishings and floor-to-ceiling windows.
High at Hotel Erwin, Venice Beach, CA
Did the moniker of Venice’s only rooftop bar come from High’s enviable post above the legendary boardwalk or the ever-present wafts of California’s famous cash crop? Ponder it over a double IPA from San Diego’s Stone Brewing Co. or a jalapeño strawberry margarita alongside the beachy-bro Angelinos who spend languid afternoons watching sailboats ply the Pacific.
IO Urban Roofscape, Chicago
Acidic-level testing, measuring ingredients by weight, infusing drinks with exotic hybrid fruits and habanero salt air foam—chef Riley Huddleston’s affinity for experimentation is on display at the Windy City’s most eye-catching new addition, the retractable-roofed IO Urban Roofscape, in River North. After an education in molecular mixology at Grant Achatz’s Aviary, Huddleston conceived “cocktails from the kitchen,” a philosophy that turns to obscure methods and mixers (mangorange, mandarinquat) for inspiration. Its location in the new cubist, ultramodern Godfrey Hotel is a fitting match. The solarium-esque space is embellished with video installations, a waterfall wall, and soaring stingray-shaped canopies.
Upstairs Ace Hotel, Los Angeles (Downtown)
Only an Ace Hotel could take the 14th-floor roof of a 1927 Spanish Gothic building in hipster-renewed downtown L.A., model it after Frank Lloyd Wright’s concrete-block Ennis House, give it a Middle Eastern–inspired makeover, and instantly turn it into L.A.’s next hot spot. (Don’t leave without taking the obligatory selfie.) A coral tree strewn with ceramic lanterns is the centerpiece of Upstairs, a deck adorned in bandanna-patterned awnings, alcoves with reclaimed cedarwood tables and Moroccan kilim cushions, and a pool fringed by teak loungers. Three routes to take for cocktails: low-, mid-, or high-proof.
Soda Bar at the Nylo Hotel, Dallas
Day-drinking revelers in the Big D have migrated south, from the swanky Joule Hotel to Nylo’s whimsical Soda Bar, where foosball tables, faux grass, Texas brews, and a fire pit set a more relaxed vibe. Crowning the refurbished, century-old Dallas Coffin Co. building, it also fills a discernible void in the social ecosystem: a place to tip one back while taking in an unfettered view of downtown.
Ides at the Wythe Hotel, Brooklyn, NY
It’s no secret that New York’s social center of gravity has shifted across the East River—and nowhere is Brooklyn cool on display more than the industrial-chic Wythe Hotel. That queue spilling down the street each weekend? It’s a global throng lusting for Andrew Tarlow’s locavore bistro riffs (the grass-fed beef burger is ground on-site by the in-house butcher), ambient beats from a cast of DJs, and a showstopping panorama of Manhattan’s skyline that will have you lighting up your Instagram feed.
Don’t let the factory-grade Linger Mortuaries sign in the sky fool you—this LoHi bar is the city’s liveliest rooftop. It embodies a freewheeling Colorado spirit with boho touches: there’s the 1975 hippiefied RV that turns out global street food; an eclectic selection of small plates (sesame BBQ tacos, falafel lettuce wraps) available in vegan, gluten-free, and nut-free options; and a happy hour with 1990s-era prices ($5 craft cocktails, $1 drafts).
Jack Rose, Washington, D.C.
The easiest misplay on the rooftop bar circuit is the W D.C., which lures visitors with funky design elements and an admittedly dazzling White House view. It’s also the District’s biggest tourist trap. Instead, try the 1,400-spirit Jack Rose, in nightlife epicenter Adams Morgan, has made waves thanks to its sheer size—6,700 square feet—and an extravagant whiskey collection, the largest in the Western Hemisphere. Everyone from K Street lobbyists to Senate interns packs the cedarwood terrace for pit-grilled barbecue and Beltway gossip. The most ambitious find the hidden tiki bar for a round of Singapore Slings.
The J. Parker, Chicago
Named for Honest Abe’s booze-addled bodyguard, the J. Parker is the first stop for frostbitten locals after Chicago’s brutal winters. The 140-seat patio sits atop retro Hotel Lincoln, where views of sprawling Lake Michigan and Gold Coast high-rises are the backdrop for a liquid brunch of summery rum punches. The menu is inspired by a rotating list of far-flung destinations that reflect the seasons, like sultry Cuba and Peru. Pisco sour, anyone?
Soho Beach House, Miami
Close your eyes and point—you’ll likely hit a model (if not, check the Polaroid photo booth). Prince Harry recently did some breakup therapy here, and it’s easy to see why: Soho Beach House, part of the London-based boutique hotel group, buzzes with the young and beautiful. Flanked by cabanas and blessed with postcard-worthy vistas of the teal-hued sea, its eighth-floor plunge bar draws the glamorous après-beach set. Yes, that’s Jamie Foxx sipping tequila in the corner.
Lustre Rooftop Garden, Phoenix
When the stifling desert heat breaks triple digits in the Valley of the Sun, life outside of air-conditioning more or less comes to a standstill. Except at Lustre, the lounge at the Hotel Palomar, where cavorting pool partiers cool off with frozen daiquiri pitchers and games of champong (beer pong with champagne) in the shadow of downtown skyscrapers and South Mountain. The retro pop soundtrack should keep you going till dusk, when the temperature drops to a more hospitable level—just in time for an Arizona Diamondbacks game across the street.
Stars Restaurant & Rooftop Bar, Charleston, SC
The tattooed denizens of Upper King Street have a new stomping ground: the third-floor pavilion at Stars, with a 360-degree view of Charleston’s rooftops and church steeples. While the street-level restaurant turns heads with its acclaimed Lowcountry menu, including wood-grilled crab soup and bacon-and-lobster grits, the real action is upstairs at the mahogany bar, which is engulfed by a giant wooden overhang. Ask the bartender to shake up a drink flavored with herbs grown on-site—and arrive early, or risk dawdling in the perennially long line.
The Jane Rooftop, Manhattan (Downtown)
Trendy hotelier Sean MacPherson’s bohemian cocktail den has been a magnet for after-hours scenesters since it opened inside the Jane Hotel in 2008 (do the Olsen twins go anywhere else?). The 2014 opening of the brick-clad terrace—once RuPaul’s crash pad—to the public has added a stylish day crowd to the mix. Expect the same clubby décor (Parisian rug, wall-to-wall oak bar) inside the octagonal barroom tower to go with plush red couches outdoors. The rooftop is the perfect perch for watching the sun take its leave while drinking the aptly named West Street Sunset, a mix of tequila, blackberry brandy, and orange bitters. Just be sure to call ahead: it’s reservation only.
Drai’s Beach Club at the Cromwell, Las Vegas
Nightlife impresario Victor Drai dives into the Strip’s super-club arms race with his namesake party palace at the new Cromwell hotel. The specs: a 65,000-square-foot indoor-outdoor space; 150 VIP cabanas and tables; musical production by visual architect Stephen Lieberman, the man behind the massive music festival Electric Daisy Carnival; and Sin City’s only rooftop pool. Look out for Drai’s Yacht Club, an after-hours swim party on Tuesday nights that ends at 5 a.m., because, why not?