The appeal of rooftop bars is fairly obvious. A fresh-air escape mixed with a coveted view is bound to attract interest, especially during warmer months.
But with unique settings come unique design and logistical challenges.
Tabitha Williams, the former director of food and beverage at Monkey Board, which is thought to be the first rooftop venue in New Orleans to deploy a live DJ, feels altitude is an advantage.
“Our roof is higher than most buildings in our surrounding area,” she said. “So we are able to play music without disturbing the surrounding hotels and office buildings.”
Situated atop The Troubadour Hotel on the 17th floor, Monkey Board has a club atmosphere and sweeping views across the city. But that also introduces an element of risk.
“There will always be a small concern for safety when you mix alcohol and a rooftop,” Williams said, who was still with the company during her chat with RH.
“The best you can do is have systems in place, such as don’t over serve, have appropriate security in place and, ultimately, create an atmosphere of partying in a fun and safe way,” she said.
Williams noted that Monkey Board refrains from using glass furnishings or decor at the rooftop location and all of the furniture is built to handle “very strong” winds.
As for the rooftop’s layout, Williams described the design as evoking a “Southern backyard feel that captures the Central Business District and the other, lesser-known areas of New Orleans.”
She described the decor as vibrant and playful, accented by “varied seating arrangements, greenery and lanterns.”
But rooftop lounges are one thing in New Orleans, where winter is mild, and quite another in Chicago, a city with a number of rooftop venues despite the potential for icy winds from November through March.
Chef Nate Cayer of Chicago’s I|O Godfrey, for example, said seasonality plays into the menus.
“During the colder months in Chicago, you’ll find a lot more hearty dishes, while the summer menu does spotlight lighter options,” he said.
Hearty or not, what’s on your plate won’t keep you warm.
I|O Godfrey employs a retractable glass roof one to ensure that any event on the 4th floor terrace can go from outdoor to indoor within seconds if bad weather rolls in. Given the structure is glass, guests can still enjoy the view when the roof is engaged.
For events, I|O Godfrey can seat up to 300 people across 15,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor space.
GreenRiver, a Chicago collaboration between Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group and the Best Bar of the World, includes an 80-seat terrace alongside the Michelin-starred restaurant on the 18th floor.
“We’re more of a restaurant,” said assistant general manager, bar manager, and wine director Alex Smith. “Most of the other rooftops in the city kind of become the clubby scene.”
Though its raised open-air offering is more of an accent than the main event, Smith admits that the restaurant’s menu, which includes, a bay scallop crudo appetizer, lamb shoulder, veal and other selections, is sometimes not what brings guests to the terrace.
“The crowd that comes out there is not always down to eat,” Smith said.
The venue’s terrace includes several couches alongside the more traditional table seating arrangements. It’s a welcoming atmosphere for those seeking a cocktail and an upscale bar setting.
GreenRiver found that the logistics of serving both a 45-guest rooftop and a traditional restaurant call for a more streamlined approach. “We just scaled back our offering a bit to make it easier for patio service,” Smith said.
As a result, the cocktail selection was recently trimmed from 40 items, to 16.
LH Rooftop, a tri-level venue 22 floors up on Chicago’s Upper Wacker Drive, leans into the lounge aesthetic a bit more.
“At the end of the day, it’s a bar lounge,” said Jacob Verstegen, LH Rooftop’s executive chef, who believes many of his patrons visit more so for the views and the cocktails rather than the traditional restaurant experience.
The venue’s indoor portion is located on the 21st level while the outdoor section is on the 22nd. There is room for 176 seats between the two, plus an additional ten can enjoy the 23rd level’s private party area.
If the weather refuses to cooperate, guests can retreat inwards to the indoor portion on level 21.
Verstegen added that the key to success at such a venue is providing food that can be eaten with one’s hands, that’s hot and flavorful but not greasy, and consisting of interesting textures.
Bar snacks include bacon-wrapped shishito peppers, fried chicken wings alongside a fermented blueberry barbecue sauce and duck fat truffle fries.
LH Rooftop also offers a lobster roll sandwich, a burger, bison tartare, duck breast, and a grilled strip loin steak for those seeking heartier entrees.
The Adolphus Hotel rooftop venue in Dallas adds another variable into the equation, combining the charms of a typical outdoor lounge with a pool.
“The diversity in how guests will use the area is a driving factor in design consideration,” said Tony Cournia, general manager of food and beverage at Pool Adolphus, which sits on the 7th floor of the hotel.
“Some will use the pool itself to cool off while others will use the deck for sun, tranquility, drinks, and bites,” he said. “Some may utilize the bar for a more vibrant social experience and others may want greater privacy and opt for a cabana.”
Though Mother Nature may occasionally take away the lounge’s key attraction, provisions are in place to keep it open and filled with guests.
“In the chance of inclement weather, we do have roofs over the cabanas and the communal tables at the bar to allow guests to remain covered,” Cournia said. “We will have heaters and a fire pit once the weather begins to get cool to lengthen the season as well.”