It figures that in New York, City of Broker's Fees, the coveted leisure activity of outdoor drinking has cornered that big real estate market in the sky. More and more upscale hotels are topped with velvet-roped rooftop bars open to the public, leading to that strange co-mingling of obnoxious tourists and, well, obnoxious locals. For me, going to rooftop bars in the city has always felt like gobbling up the table crumbs of Manhattan's (and now Brooklyn's) elite. I don't want to pay $18 for a cocktail just for a view and a chance to rub shoulders with some bros. If I'm going to pay $18 for a cocktail, I want it to be one of the best fucking cocktails I've ever tried.
And if I were actually rolling up to one of said elite rooftop bars with a consistent paycheck, then I'd want everyone there to know my name. I'd want to feel like it was the Cheers of urban wealth, where Norm works for PricewaterhouseCoopers, Cliff delivers his mail via drone, and Diane is...well, Diane.
With that in mind, here are the best outdoor rooftop bars in the city; check out our list of all-year rooftop bars for blech-ier weather, and as always, leave your favorites in the comments.
CATCH NEW YORK: A few stories above the street sits Catch, a seafood-focused restaurant with a roof terrace that wraps around its upstairs room. Unlike some of its Meatpacking brethren, Catch's roof is a modest one, with more seating than standing room on non DJ-nights, and boasting slim couches, tinkly lights and ivy walls. Four drinks on the bar’s cocktail menu are available on draft (for the same price as the rest, $17). And while that’s nothing new in the bar scene, these kegged-for-convenience cocktails feel bespoke enough to write home about, each served in a different glass and garnished after the pour. I also drank a vodka champagne cocktail out of a $100 copper pineapple spewing dry ice, so there’s something to be said for the effort here.
Catch is in the Meatpacking District, but you can still wear sneakers if you want to avoid cobblestone snafus. Unlike other rooftops in this area, the vibe (and dress code) here doesn’t discriminate.
Catch New York is located at 21 Ninth Avenue in the Meatpacking District (212-392-5978, emmgroup.com).
THE LOOPY DOOPY ROOFTOP AT THE CONRAD HOTEL: Half the luxury of going to Loopy Doopy is walking into the Conrad itself. The hotel's lobby is a breathtaking (yes, I was actually breathless) 15-stories high, hung with 10-story artwork by Sol LeWitt. If this where "the other side" travels on business, maybe I should start dating up. On the 16th floor of the Conrad sits Loopy Doopy, a rooftop bar that feels far more stylish than its name.
Aim to drink here in the mid-afternoon, when this place is truly serene. You'll join airily-clad businesspeople and hotel clientele lounging on the wooden deck, enjoying the breeze coming off the Hudson, and sipping on the bar's signature item: $22 sparkling ice pop cocktails served in fishbowl stemware. They're filled with Prosecco and dunked with an upside down People's Pop. Nights here can get busy and the velvet rope does come out, so show up early before the after-work crowd piles in.
Loopy Doopy Rooftop is located at the Conrad New York Hotel at 102 North End Avenue in Battery Park City (646-769-4250, conradnewyork.com/dine).
MR. PURPLE: Mr. Purple looks like something straight out of a Season 1 episode of GIRLS. The LES rooftop bar perched on top of the Indigo Hotel was designed to resemble an artist's loft, complete with cedar shelving units, Mod furniture and shaggy rugs. The clientele is made up of exactly the kind of folk you'd expect at an artist's loft party, too, nautical blouses, drapey cardigans and all. But even without all that, Mr. Purple would still feel artsy and HBO-ready, thanks to its sprawling Orchard Street-side lookout. If you're there at sunset, the tops of Manhattan's buildings will catch the light just so, and for one fleeting moment you'll wonder whether it wouldn't be so bad after all to go through life as a walking cliché.
Cocktails are strong ($16, but basically two $8 cocktails' worth strong) and the company is handsome as all hell. Stay until you exchange numbers with someone, which, given the house party vibes and the wide sections of seating, shouldn't be hard to do.
Mr. Purple is located at Hotel Indigo at 180 Orchard Street on the Lower East Side (212-237-1790, mrpurplenyc.com).
Z ROOF: Here's a riddle: how many Brooklyn-obsessed transplants does it take to decide that Queens is too far away for a drink? Z may be the last letter of the alphabet, and Z Roof the last place you'd think to go for drinks if you don't already live conveniently off the 7 train. But this spot is a real destination stunner. The decor is chic, cool and casual, with a clientele to match. On Sundays in the summer, you can enjoy the bar's panoramic views of the Manhattan skyline and the Queensboro Bridge over live music-accompanied brunch. By night, Z Roof is the best place to catch fireworks over the city. And in case your own tar beach isn't quite big enough for it, Z also offers rooftop yoga every other Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. (the $35 class cost includes "skinny" cocktails and light bites after the session).
Z Roof is located at Z NYC Hotel at 11-01 43rd Ave in Long Island City, Queens (212-319-7000, zhotelny.com).
THE ROOF AT MCCARREN: The Roof at McCarren was once Xanadu, a funky retro-inspired rooftop bar. And back then, it was just OK. But they've since reinvented themselves as The Roof and, to quote judgmental mothers everywhere, "I love what they've done with the place." Now, the Roof at McCarren's vibe is more in line with the Royal Palms Shuffleboard Club in Gowanus—it's a little tropical and a little Twin Peaks. McCarren's in-house mixologist Francis Verrall whips up award-winning (as in, he's actually won awards with them) $14 cocktails using local spirits and seasonal ingredients.
There's a white pike negroni that'll knock your socks off if you happen to be wearing any; there’s no dress code. Remember to wear a bathing suit underneath your clothes, though—if you plan ahead for ticketed swim times at the downstairs pool, it’ll make for the perfect cooldown after a day spent lying too close to the sun. The Roof is also slated for some awesome live DJs on upcoming weekends, as well as monthly reggae and Brazilian theme nights throughout the summer.
The Roof at McCarren is located at the McCarren Hotel & Pool, 160 North 12th Street between Berry Street and Bedford Avenue (718-218-7500, mccarrenhotel.com).
(Brooklyn Crab's Facebook)
BROOKLYN CRAB: This place is the low-key Disneyland of Greater New York. Wander far enough down Van Brunt Street in Red Hook and take a right on Reed, and the Brooklyn Crab will appear to you just as the desert oases did in the Bible, or like that cactus mirage in Fievel Goes West. Brooklyn Crab is a three-tiered eatery with a front and back lawn. At street level, the bar has low lighting, bar seating only, and a real bait-and-tackle vibe, complete with cornhole on the lawn. On the second floor, it’s a full restaurant with a roadhouse feel.
But it’s the Crab’s no-frills roof deck, replete with picnic benches and umbrellas, that really makes the occasion. With a spectacular lookout over the river (clear to the Statue of Liberty!), homey wood paneling, and picnic benches, it’s exactly where you want to spend an afternoon sucking down a Rum Punch Bowl for Two ($27), which comes topped with Swedish Fish. The bar also boasts a backyard tent with pressed sandwiches and a wraparound mini-golf course—free to play, because this is Valhalla, after all.
Brooklyn Crab is located at 24 Reed Street between Van Brunt and Conover Streets in Red Hook, Brooklyn (718-643-2722, brooklyncrab.com).
THE ROOF AT THE GOWANUS WHOLE FOODS: I know what you're thinking. Why isn't there a BYOB corkage-fee free roof bar on top of the Union Square Trader Joe's Wine Store? Nothing makes an hour-long line more manageable than half a bottle of Three Buck Chuck, after all. But while boozy rooftops on grocery stores are rare, the Gowanus Whole Foods rooftop is surprisingly amazing. The outdoor space is a wrapped balcony next to their upstairs bar and restaurant, with wooden tables and a tolerable number of children (almost none!) in the evenings.
Draft beers are actually craft beers—a rooftop rarity, considering most roofs' vodka soda-loving clientele—and are only $6 to $9, with a weekday happy hour from 4-8 p.m. that knocks another $2 off. Also, WHOLE FOODS IS DOWNSTAIRS, i.e. if you and some friends want to buy a bottle of wine at the bar ($4 off at happy hour) and pair it with a bag of Stacy's pita chips, nobody is going to judge you here. There may no longer be a Kentile sign to gaze on, but big ups to this roof for making the best of the breeze that wafts off the Gowanus Canal. It's quite possibly the only non-toxic way to enjoy the water.
The Gowanus Whole Foods is located at 214 3rd Street in Gowanus, Brooklyn (718-907-3622, wholefoodsmarket.com).
THE PRESS LOUNGE Cue a fragrance commercial starring James Franco, or just a Jay-Z anthem: the Press Lounge above the Ink48 Hotel is the smooth jazz, classy AF ("as fuck," for the adults) scene that will make you wonder why you ever considered moving to L.A. It sits atop a converted printing factory on 11th Avenue, 187 feet above street level, making it unrivaled in height, since there's a moratorium on every new building cropping up around it.
Cocktails are $17 and cater to the white collar Blue Label drinkers who walk among us. Indeed, with its bluestone tile and glass paneling, unobstructed view of the Hudson, and ridiculous amenities like a sunken dining table in an old swimming pool, The Press Lounge offers the ultimate Fifty Shades experience (minus the BDSM) (maybe). I happened to visit the lounge on an afternoon when Elizabeth Arden was shooting a magazine spread, and was told I'd just missed a Gael King party the night before, where Oprah showed up. Whether or not you run into celebrities up here, you're guaranteed to feel like one. WARNING: Anyone with a fear of heights should NOT attempt to drink on this roof.
The Press Lounge is located at the Ink48 Hotel, 653 11th Ave between 47th and 48th Streets in Hells Kitchen (212-757-2224, thepresslounge.com).
NIGHT OF JOY: Night of Joy remains an old stand-by for casual rooftop drinks in New York. This divey, Victorian-furnished hideaway just off the BQE in Williamsburg offers up an extensive and consistent $10 cocktail menu (along with a great happy hour deal). After one chilled beet vodka (served neat), you might suddenly love Moscow as much as Moscow loves us. And after four jalapeño margaritas, you might casually crash your bicycle into a parked car on the way home. The bar's roof is fenced in like a couryard, furnished with iron benches and chairs, made extra-quaint with christmas lights and Tibetan flags. The rumble of nearby trains is sure to interrupt your conversation multiple times throughout the night, providing an authenticity hardly rivaled by anything else cropping up in the neighborhood.
Night of Joy is located at 667 Lorimer Street between Jackson Street and the BQE in Williamsburg, Brooklyn (718-388-8693, nightofjoybar.com).
Courtesy Our Wicked Lady
OUR WICKED LADY: How Bushwick got to be the way it is without a rooftop bar to its name is beyond me. But Our Wicked lady stands alone in the neighborhood, a rooftop-equipped bar and event venue thriving at Morgan and Meserole since its opening just nine months ago. The only way I can describe this decor of this bar is with the word "Illuminati," so take what you will from that. Their roof is casual and cozy, closed off between fencing and building walls on all sides. That architectural choice makes it more of a cloistered courtyard than a lookout point, but the space is still significant enough to host party crowds and live bands, two things that are forthcoming in the roof's inaugural summer season. It's more manageable than some of its brethren in The City, with frozen drinks running you $8, and most other cocktails $12. If you're a spice fiend, try the El Fantasma: tequila cabeza, montelobos mezcal, ginger, lime and ghost pepper bitters.
Our Wicked Lady is located at 153 Morgan Avenue between Scholes and Meserole Streets in East Williamsburg, Brooklyn (ourwickedlady.com).
Sam Corbin is a writer and performer based in Brooklyn. She's also Canadian, but don't let that stop you. Follow her here.