Up on the roof
25 April, 2012
That undeveloped area at the very top of the building could be worth a fortune if you can look upwards and utilise it to give your customers a great night on the tiles, says Mike Palmer
Not so long back, all the talk was of smoking solutions, and councils were awash with pavement licence applications from operators scrambling to provide for their newly disenfranchised smokers.
Along the way, gardens were landscaped, jumbrellas blossomed and we all suddenly became conversant in the latest microwave external heating technology.
Dial forward to 2012 and guest expectations for being outside have marched onward (and upward). Progressive operators short on space have looked up and found relatively cheap unused space on top of the roof. Add on benefits include encountering fewer potential residential complainants, beautiful city skylines and encapsulating a sense of camaraderie with hemmed-in city folk.
Nothing quite says “summer in the city” like alfresco cocktails up top. And in a country where other kinds of development and additions are often curtailed, it’s a logical way to expand as well as offer value to the guest.
So where is the trend coming from? The Gansevoort in New York kicked it all off in 2004. It wasn’t the first, but it was a game changer, with its now iconic heated pool, underwater music and indoor and outdoor space, and it took rooftops to a new level (as it were).
The sales volumes became impossible for hoteliers to ignore, and so began a wave of openings timed alongside a resurgence in urban hotel builds. In revenue terms, Jones Lang Lasalle recently quoted sales volumes of $120 per square foot during peak months. But it is as much about the iconic nature of the scene which spurs on continued growth. New York continues to be at the forefront of the rooftop bar scene, with other major US cities following suit, such as Miami and Chicago.
In London, for many years the Coq d’Argent (at Bank) and the Kensington Roof Gardens held the higher ground. However, a new wave of operators are joining the game, and last year’s coolest space was Franks Cafe (pictured), atop a car park in Peckham. Part art installation, part Campari bar, part residency for London’s brightest talent, Franks is one of a new wave of London operators keen to raise the bar.
Aqua Kyoto on Regent Street features an upmarket space, popular with drinkers and with fabulous views over Mayfair and beyond. The bar, club and art collective Queen of Hoxton, just north of the City, has installed a heated rooftop WigWam Bar to cover the colder months and caters to the hipster crowd year-round. From April, the space becomes a rooftop garden complete with BBQ kitchen, bar, garden shed bathrooms, fountain, hanging gardens, astroturf and panoramic views over the City of London.
Also from mid-April, the Dalston Roof Park returns with outdoor film screenings and gigs, rooftop foodie evenings and barbecues put on by local restaurants as well as its own pop-up bar. Over in Shoreditch, the action belongs to The Boundary, with its large bar arranged around an open fireplace as well as a 48-cover grill restaurant. Over the road at Shoreditch House, members enjoy a rooftop pool, garden bar and BBQ and the newly installed lazy lawn, for sunbathing, dining or to curl up and take a nap.
For inspiration further afield your best bet is to head for New York City, and you’re spoiled for choice. Gorgeous 230-Fifth is huge, with 22,000 sq ft of rooftop garden, palm trees and parrots, open 365 days a year. As one of the highest-grossing bars in the history of New York nightlife, and with views of the Empire State Building and across midtown, it is well worth a visit.
For effortless cool and sophistication head for Top of the Standard at the Standard Hotel for an eclectic crowd, great decor and views across the Hudson and back across town. Just across the road, Soho House has a great set-up, with an indoor/outdoor bar, a beautiful white pool, sunbeds and a regular line up of DJs.
For inspiration a little closer to home you could head for Barcelona. Hotel Omm, part of the excellent Tragaluz group has a pool, bar and gorgeous views over the Eixample. But the coolest spot has to be the beautifully designed, leafy, and very private roof at the
Mike Palmer is an operator and trendspotter who runs the Lost In Catering website.
- New openings: Tossed, Dunkin Donuts, Wetherspoons, Giraffe, Itsu, Abokado, Prezzo, Carluccio’s
- Polenta concept hits Soho
- New openings: Benugo, Benito’s Hat, Franco Manca, Cleaver, BrewDog, Ed’s
- John Lewis brings in café brands
- Tragus hits T2 with La Salle
- New openings: Bill’s, Young’s, Wetherspoon, Giraffe, Walkabout, Fuller’s, Leon
- Big Easy to double up in London
- New openings: Sticks n Sushi, Slug & Lettuce, Brunning & Price, Rex, Nando’s, Wagamama
- Liverpool’s ‘Brewery Village’ gets the nod