As warm weather rolls in, Gothamites gear up for all manner of seasonal activities, including outdoor dining, spring art shows and enjoying cocktails with a view at the city's best rooftop bars. From buzzy hot spots at some of the best hotels in NYC to low-key first-date hideaways, raise a glass to the best rooftop bars in Gotham.
RECOMMENDED: Full guide to the best bars in NYC
Best rooftop bars in NYC
Gotham’s top-notch cocktail haunts come tucked in restaurant basements, stuffed behind unmarked storefronts and hidden in hot-dog shacks. Rarely do you find quality drinks in the DJ-soundtracked, pool-soaked terrain of rooftop bars—until now. Enter Tim and Nancy Cushman, the husband-and-wife team behind Boston’s high-flying Japanese spot O Ya, who bring smart tippling to the roof deck of Gramercy’s Park South Hotel.
The transportive vibe of Sleep No More, Punchdrunk’s interactive theater piece at the McKittrick Hotel, carries over to the venue’s rooftop bar. Named for a Scottish field where accused witches were hanged, Gallow Green has the feel of a garden party thrown at an abandoned farm. Fairy lights and tattered flags hang between verdant trellises; bartenders sling cocktails like the Birnam HighBall (which pairs Lot 40 Rye whiskey with apple cider, ginger, lemon juice and blackberry and pine liqueurs; $17), served by waitstaff dressed in ghostly white. The best seats in the house are inside an artfully ruined antique railcar, whose empty windows are hung with destroyed lace curtains.
The Strand Hotel’s 21st-floor drinkery boasts an uninterrupted sight line of the towering Empire State Building and first-come, first-served benches that offer a front-row seat. Don’t let the imposing main attraction blind you to the rest of the skyline—to your left is the lit-up crown of Langham Place at 400 Fifth Avenue, and over to your right is the illuminated double-fin roof of the Epic. The price of admission for this light show? Specialty cocktails are $15 and bottles of beer $9. If you’re rolling deep, reserve a cabana and don’t worry about the weather, a retractable glass roof ensures a warm viewing platform safe from the elements.
While the music pounds downstairs, this LES rooftop offers a palm-studded oasis with white chaise lounges. On Saturdays between 10pm and 1am, the spot is often packed with large group reservations (fortune, it seems, favors the popular and organized). Happy hour is 5pm to 7 pm, Sunday through Thursday, when drinks and food are $2 off.
The William Vale Hotel came out of the gate hot with culinary clout: The team behind the Williamsburg hotel’s food-and-drink programs is none other than NoHo Hospitality heavy hitters Andrew Carmellini, Josh Pickard and Luke Ostrom (Lafayette, the Dutch, Locanda Verde). But a venture across the river wasn’t the only first for the trio—at the hotel, they also debuted their first-ever rooftop bar, Westlight, a stylish glass box capping the neighborhood’s tallest skyscraper. Take the dedicated elevator 22 stories up to the industrial yet swank space—set with black-and-white tiled floors, bright globe lights and a beamed ceiling—to experience a hotel rooftop bar that has all the goods to be a standalone New York cocktail den.
There are few better ways to enjoy New York than from above, cocktail in hand, gazing across the lights and landmarks that define the city. One such landmark is the historic Knickerbocker Hotel, onetime haunt of American elite like F. Scott Fitzgerald and John D. Rockefeller, which serves as base of this 7,800-square-foot rooftop bar and terrace. Named after the late-19th-century hotel that originally occupied the Knickerbocker space, the outdoor space is outfitted with plush "sky pods" (VIP lounges built into corners of the roof), and metallic-finished wood floors."
Gaze at the Manhattan skyline from across the East River at this 3,000-square-foot roof deck. After a recent renovation, the aerie features a retractable glass roof, so you can hang out when it's sunny or raining. Quaff European brews that skew German, like the Aventinus doppelbock ($9), as you chow down on boozing-friendly eats such as bratwurst with sauerkraut and fries ($9). Come summertime, a DJ takes over during the boozy Brunch Beats Sundays.
This rooftop bar, 17 stories above ground, offers a view of the East River in the warmer months, craft cocktails and light bites by April Bloomfield’s Salvation Taco. Sip the Salvation Margarita, a tequila, agave and lime juice concoction with a guajillo chili salt rim, while gazing at the vista.
This outdoor terrace bar on the Wythe Hotel’s sixth floor affords sweeping views of the East River and Manhattan, and it’s an ideal vantage point for watching summer sunsets while lingering over a pint of Radeberger ($11) or a quaff made from local small-batch spirits. Sure, the crowd comprises mostly globe-trotting cool kids from outside the five boroughs, but consider that another avenue to finding a guilt-free summer fling.
When you tire of Williamsburg’s dive bars, head up the stairs of this French bistro for a glass of vin on the wooden terrace that’s dotted with trees. The roof deck is now more conducive to drinkers: Brunch is served throughout the week, with a special terrace menu on Saturdays and Sundays.
See the best rooftop bars in America
Sweet Polly is like that perfect girl in high school: undeniably beautiful and effortlessly cool, armed with brains to back it all up. At this Prospect Heights bar from Hungry Ghost owner Murat Uyaroglu, the tables are consistently packed with well-heeled Brooklynites; the space is stunning, with gilded tin ceilings and a lush garden wall, and the cocktail execution is fingertip-kissing good. And like with the school-days Polly of your past, there are plenty of times you’ll feel ignored, but just when you’re about to smack-talk her, she gives you an extra sample of beef jerky. ORDER THIS: Bartender–co-owner Bruno Dias’s cocktails highlight unusual ingredients, like green bell peppers, BBQ bitters and yogurt, that are sure to satiate curious palates. The Golden Eye ($13) is a standout: Stumptown cold brew is stirred with Icelandic vodka, herbal Italian amaro and chocolate bitters to create a rich, velvety, caffeine-blasted drink. The bar’s head turner, however, is the rosy Rocket Lunar ($13), which is set in a snifter topped with egg-white foam and a grilled dehydrated pineapple. Inside the cup, BBQ bitters curb the sweetness of the drink’s kalamansi syrup and aged cachaça, along with an added touch of cinnamon from tiki bitters. GOOD FOR: A grown-up date for that prospective S.O. who’s slightly out of your league. Everything is on point for romance: The ambience is sumptuous, the cocktails are unconventional, and the circular, candlelit tables are tailor-made for two. Plus, t
Venue says: “Introducing: -The Komfortably Knumb A play on Smash with Kumquats and Aquavit.Refreshing citrus flavors with touches of caraway and anise.”