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Here’s what rooftop bars could look like this summer

More staggered seating, more masks and more mindful hospitality.

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Rooftop bar season would normally be kicking off with Memorial Day weekend and warmer days on the horizon. But with New York City restaurants and bars currently allowed to only offer takeout and delivery, the rooftop hangout seems like a distant summer fantasy. Yesterday, we reported that it’s looking like New York has a strong future for outdoor dining when the city council waived sidewalk consent feesBut while city officials did not clarify how that would pertain to rooftop bar set-ups, some businesses are already planning ahead for the future.

Beyond the usual sanitization mandates for employees and glove-wearing policies, a few spots are trying to get creative with the situation at hand. Earlier this month, you may have seen the viral photos of the Amsterdam greenhouses installed to ensure social distancing measures. Those Amsterdam greenhouses look a lot like Arlo rooftop's enchanting set-up from last summer; however, the team does not have plans to reinstall the glass boxes for dining and drinking this season. 

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By contrast, Clinton Hall in Williamsburg, which sits atop the POD BK Hotel on Metropolitan Avenue, is planning to transform its open-air section of the bar into a picnic area. A representative for the bar tells us that “food will be delivered in picnic baskets and guests will be able to reserve a 10-foot by 10-foot space to call their own and ensure social distancing, in addition to serving up frosé in eco-friendly pouches.” The things that matter! The team is referring to the idea as the new “Sheep's Meadow of Brooklyn.”

Over in Midtown, Haven Rooftop at the Sanctuary hotel, has plans to reopen soon and is currently discussing different safety measures that may be put in place. We’re told “some examples may include no longer presetting tables with napkins, cutlery, glassware, etc. and providing patrons with disposable menus.” Furthermore, shared food items will be suspended.

In Bushwick, hybrid-restaurant-music venue The Turk’s Inn made a splash on the Brooklyn bar scene when it opened last year with its psychedelic interior design and multi-disciplinary functions. Today marks the launch of a delivery program, but there's hope for those planning ahead to hangout in a space where the food and drink components are so tied to the experience of the environment.

Co-owner Varun Kataria tells Time Out New York that he feels really "lucky" to have a rooftop space right now and that the team at Turk's Inn is experimenting with several measures to maximize their use of the outdoor area. They are adding awnings to the space to transform it into an open-air option whether there's rain or shine. While the rooftop was once used mainly as a bar space, it will now include seating from the restaurant downstairs so that they can serve food outside to customers who are appropriately spaced six-feet apart.

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"Being a restaurant owner right now you have to be an amateur epidemiologist. And, for us, since we're a restaurant, bar and music venue, there are different phases for how we'll reopen these spaces," he says, noting that it will be happen "slowly." He considers the rooftop to be an even a safer place for staff right now because it is well-ventilated. He's examining and eliminating all possible points of contact, such as propping open doors that formerly separated the roof space from the restaurant. 

Unlike other rooftop bars operators with whom we spoke, Kataria is not interested adding more technology to his space. Many places have considered using iPads in lieu of menus, but he notes the gadgets are expensive and makes it feel "like you're in an airport." But Kataria doesn't have plans for one-time use menus, either: "I don't want to use the coronavirus as an excuse to suddenly be wasteful." Rather, he will put further emphasis on wiping down the menus between use. Besides the obvious new hygienic practices (such as mask-wearing and staggering seating to the appropriate distances), he adds that it's worth noting that even before the current crisis hit, restaurants were "already set-up to take sanitation seriously," wiping down services between meals, among many other health-focused measures.

Still, one of the most pressing issues is how to maintain hospitality during these new phases. As reopening becomes a reality, the Turk's Inn will host some musical performances on its rooftop that formerly would've taken place in the Sultan Room. "With far greater mindfulness, it's important to find ways to delight [our customers]—otherwise you're sort of chipping away at the experience as a whole," he says.    

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