“Being on a New York City rooftop gives you this special pleasure of feeling part of the city, inside it, but at a distance,” says Ray Chung, director of design at The Johnson Studio, the firm behind the rooftop lounge at The Wit Hotel in Chicago, among other projects.
Of course, space planning, comfortable seating, spectacular views and a creative and varied menu are important as well, the latter in particular.
“Unique food and drink offerings are becoming a given,” says Chung, “and a top-notch bartending crew can be a draw on its own. But really, as long as there’s a view and fresh air, people will come.”
Here are some of the best rooftop bars in Manhattan to visit this summer.
PHD Terrace at Dream Midtown
There’s a menu of small bites, such as the BLT deviled egg and Murray’s meatballs served with house-made pickles.
Bottle service is available for the high rollers in the house. Otherwise, try one of the specialty cocktails like the Hot to Trot (tequila, cucumber, jalapeno) or the Singani Sour (made with the Bolivian spirit Singani 63, lemon and grapes).
For a group, the Mega Mule ($185) — a giant Moscow Mule made with either vodka or tequila — is a fun option.
The lounge spans 8,000 square feet with east- and west-facing terraces, two bars and a fireplace.
The menu has a range of small plates on offer, including Koreatown fried chicken wings, fried mac and cheese and Moroccan spiced lamb sliders.
Cocktails include a barrel-aged old fashioned, the signature Empire Sunset (made with rum, vodka and citrus) and carafe cocktails, including a pineapple-jalapeno margarita and Prohibition Punch.
The food and beverage programs are top-notch as well, with a drinks menu from beverage director Ted Kilpatrick and food from James Beard Award-winning chef Tim Cushman.
That means you can snack on yellowtail poke tacos, fried artichokes and a Cajun poached shrimp cocktail, while sipping decadent drinks such as Dukes’ Martini (“freezing cold Plymouth gin” with a bit of caviar for garnish) or Miami Vice (layers of pina colada and strawberry daiquiri).
St. Cloud Social at the Knickerbocker
The focus here is on luxury — there are sky pods in the corners that you can reserve for private parties, a cigar lounge and small plates from chef Charlie Palmer.
The menu is seasonal, but right now expect to find a Maine lobster roll, short rib sliders and a charcuterie plate. Cocktails include the Rake, Shovel and Hoe (gin, Irish whiskey, lemon) and three different types of margaritas, each one made using a different tequila and flavorings.
The Rooftop is part of STK Downtown, and you can watch the light fade on the Hudson River and the High Line from this perch.
This year, there is a new slushie cocktail (also available at STK Midtown Patio), called the Frozen Mule — essentially, a frozen version of a Moscow Mule.
The menu is packed with prime meats, raw bar options and classic steakhouse sides. You can also come for brunch at STK Rooftop, while enjoying a sunlit view of downtown Manhattan and menu items like a fried chicken sandwich or tater tots with caviar and crème fraiche.
The Beach at Dream Downtown
This is truly an escape from reality — guests can swim in a glass-bottomed pool above the hotel lobby, sunbathe on 4,800 square feet of actual sandy beach and snack on Mexican-inspired cuisine from chef Michael Armstrong.
The drinks menu features large-format cocktails like the Watermelon/Pineapple Fresh Fruit Keg, as well as frozen drinks and slushies.
Private cabanas are available for rent with flat-screen TVs and lounge chairs. If you can’t make it out of the city to the ocean this summer, purchase a day pass ($65) and visit The Beach instead.
The building housing the Jane hotel played a part in the downtown NYC music and arts scene of the ’80s and ’90s. Back when it was called Hotel Riverview and the accommodations were shabbier, the ground floor theater hosted productions of rock musicals like “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” and “tick, tick… BOOM!”
The octagonal bar and outdoor terrace is open to both guests and drop-ins, and you can find food and craft cocktails like the Little White Lie (gin, apricot brandy, Lillet and lemon).
There are three separate indoor and outdoor areas, amazing views of the city’s bustling streets spreading out in all directions and an excellent food and drinks menu. The dress code here is business casual, so arrive looking smart.
The beverage menu reads like a book of poetry, with cocktails like the Chrysler, Rum Service and Mistress described with eloquent flourishes that draw you in. Case in point: the “alluring ruby red” Mistress “unfolds into a mysterious and flawless blend of citrus, Pisco, elderflower and a whisper of licorice.”
This rooftop bar is open year-round, but the summer months are surely the best time to visit.
Jonah Flicker is a Brooklyn-based freelance writer who covers food, drink, travel and lifestyle for a variety of outlets. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram @gustatoryonline.