Kiss The Sky: Rooftop Bars Are Thriving

rooftop bars Yara Washington DC
Yara, a new Washington D.C. rooftop bar, checks all the boxes for the ideal top floor experience (Photo by Stuart Goldenberg)

They say the secret to success in real estate is location, location, location. There’s no denying that is true when it comes to rooftop bars and restaurants. It’s a memorable setting with infinite profitability possibilities for operators.

But, of course, there’s more to it than that. Though at the moment we might be experiencing rooftop closures as parts of the east coast are getting a taste of what the west coast is already familiar with, that wafting smoke from forest fires causing health warnings that include staying inside, those spots perched high above the city don’t lose their allure. We are itching to get back to them when it is safe, and as far as we can tell, once the smoke clears, the country’s rooftop bars will be open for business. And loving every minute of it!

What’s not to love? Rooftop bars and restaurants provide an oasis in a city, a vantage point unlike any other. Enjoying drinks and bites up there lends an extra frisson of excitement to even the most god-awful blind date or boring business meeting, making it a can’t miss destination.

Saul Montiel Cantina Rooftop Bars
One of the dining areas at Cantina Rooftop in New York City, where they feature a delicious Quesabirria

The Revivalist Restaurant and Bar on the lobby at 106Jefferson in Huntsville, Alabama is a powerhouse restaurant with exquisite food and on-point service, but it’s places like the hotel’s rooftop bar, Baker & Able, that cements the city into people’s minds, whether they are dyed-in-the-wool local seven-generations-back guests or just some tourists just passing through in March.  The rooftop bar of the Omni Royal Orleans on Saint Louis Street in the French Quarter delivers the same sense of place year-round.

Being perched high above a town it’s only the rooftop bar or restaurant that can feel magically of the city but not in it. Rooftop dining and drinking has a mystique all its own and that is why getting the setting, menu, and staff right is just as important as the ability to pull up a chair and watch the mighty Mississippi roll by, or the fireworks burst over the Washington Monument.

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The beauty of the view beyond the roofline must, of course, be matched by a seamlessly beautiful dining or drinking experience. At Yara, the Peruvian spot that has quickly become a destination restaurant and bar on the rooftop of the new Marriott which just opened this year Capitol Hill in Washington, DC., a lot of thought went into their location.

Mark Dombkoski, Senior Corporate Director of Restaurants and Bars PM Hotel Group explains that there is real thinking behind putting this new Peruvian restaurant up in the clouds instead of anywhere else in the building, “The whole approach with Yara is high energy Peruvian based outlet that happens to be on top of the Marriott. Not a Marriott dining outlet.”

Yara’s Chef Yuki took his location into great consideration when planning the opening, knowing that the site would be an additional element to set him apart from other Peruvian restaurants in town. He points out, “Being up there with the wind and the sun is more of a pleasure to be there. Being on a rooftop helps the experience, but still the menu needs to be solid.” In addition to the food being solid, everything else that makes the experience should be firmly rooted as Yuki comments, “We considered using heavy silver ware, metal straws, and not using paper napkins because of being on the roof.”

rooftop bars Yara Washington DC
Yara, a new Washington D.C. rooftop bar, checks all the boxes for the ideal top floor experience (Photo by Stuart Goldenberg)

Similar considerations were underway when the W Philadelphia opened in August 2021. The location of WET Bar, the rooftop outlet with its own pantry kitchen and menu that’s differentiated from the rest of the hotel, drove a lot of decision making. Edward Baten, Complex General Manager of the W Philadelphia explains their thinking, “Beyond the framework of the space, presentation is very important to us. Going the extra mile by using high-quality acrylic wares that showcase the vibrance of our drinks, melamine plates and bento boxes for food, there is an added element of luxury that supports the quality of our food & beverage program.”

That attention to detail in the things guests can touch helps when you intend to provide a positive tactile reminder of their experience, but people eat with their eyes, so how you design your space can resonate as strongly as that breathtaking special cocktail in the fun to hold Tiki mug.

Baten shares what they planned to achieve when building WET Bar, “The space unites the best of urban living and an environmental retreat; the surrounding buildings and views complement the lush greenspace, and blue custom tile work inspired by French parterre patterns and pixelated floral motif from floor to ceiling both connect the inspiration that design takes from nature.

It is designed to feel like a respite from the city below, a calm place where visitors can enjoy the views of Philadelphia while enjoying a relaxing, luxurious environment. Whether those coming to WET Bar are guests of the hotel or locals, we want the experience of entering the space to feel distinct and impart a calmness that makes people want to return.”

Return guests are a staple at Omni properties, so delighting them while simultaneously exciting the first-time visitor is a challenge that must be addressed. Thoughtful F&B programs that capture and drive trends are the kind of programs the hotel rolls out via collaborative effort between the marketing, PR and culinary teams led by Chef David Harker, Corporate Executive Chef for Omni Hotels and Resorts.

“One of our big pillars I’m proud of is our “summer of” theme that we roll out to hotels and resorts as a limited time promotion,” Harker said. “We come up with a new featured ingredient that we can put into our resort and hotel pool menus. We look at an ingredient like this summer’s – tea – and play into what’s important to us. It is a smart, relevant ingredient and we can get some legs on it. For us it’s an ingredient that speaks more than just hot tea; it has a huge wellness and mental health component and after coming out of the last three years this is something that resonates with our guests.”

The Crown NYC Rooftop Bars Bar
The Crown, one of the summer’s swanky NYC Rooftop Bars

Nailing the many layers of resonating promotions at rooftop bars is what keeps Omni bringing guests back. Harker comments on their planning phase, The wellbeing piece was a fun part of it, then we asked ourselves, what part of tea can work on the soulfulness, it isn’t all antioxidant, so is it about energy? It is. People want experiences, that’s why a promotion like this works well on a rooftop. There are synergies between the promotion and the atmosphere.”

What clicks in July’s atmosphere may be different than what resonates in the fall. That seasonal change has Yuki already thinking about drink menu changes and intimate omakase dinners served on the roof near the firepits. Baten is simultaneously looking ahead while thinking about the now as he explains, “While our rooftop is open year-round, embracing and celebrating the summer season is a lively and short-lived season that we strive to reinvent each year. By constantly elevating our F&B program with new offerings, coordinating fresh music programming and perfecting W Philadelphia’s mission to cultivate a space that feels authentic to Philly, we never produce the same rooftop program twice.”

Producing the same experience at rooftop bars twice is a good thing when your guests are posting their drinks and meals on social media, and it draws in new guests. Consider this a challenge and a curse because we staff our bars with humans, and we can’t expect humans to replicate the thing they did before 100% all of the time. So being ready to manage that with your staff and leadership is something that rooftop bar operators especially need to be aware of.

Guests are coming to you for an experience that is so much richer than an indoor, ground level bar. “Instagram is where people are posting, and it is the way society connects and communicates right now,” Dombkoski said. “If you like it or you don’t, it is what it is. It can be a great supporter of your operation. We’re a new operation and we’ve had some hiccups, some supply chain issues and definitely hiring issues, but positive social media is driving sales, I’m noticing.

“If you don’t make the dish or drink the same way it was show in someone’s IG post, if the mint sprig doesn’t have the same number of leaves as someone else’s picture, or a bartender put a fresh orange wheel into a drink to replace the dehydrated fruit program we’d run through, we hear about it,” Dombkoski concluded.

All you want to hear is how awesome your rooftop bars or restaurants are and how that guests are coming back later in the week and telling five friends. That’s an enviable position to be in. And it’s possible. When you make the right moves up there year-round.

  • Simplot Frozen Avocado
  • T&S Brass Eversteel Pre-Rinse Units
  • Imperial Dade
  • Inline Plastics Safe-T-Chef
  • Day & Nite
  • RATIONAL USA
  • McKee Foodservice
  • AyrKing Mixstir
  • BelGioioso Burrata
  • RAK Porcelain
  • DAVO Sales Tax
Francine Cohen is an award-winning journalist covering the business of the f&b/hospitality industry, and a proud native Washingtonian (DC). In addition to her work as a journalist she keeps busy fundraising for Citymeals on Wheels, Les Dames d’Escoffier, NY Women’s Culinary Alliance, and the USBG Foundation and serves as chief storyteller and brand steward for clients in the food and beverage sector by providing them with strategic marketing and business growth guidance. She has never met a cheese or beverage she does not like, and lives with her husband in New York; leaving him behind to visit New Orleans every summer. (Except 2020. Darn pandemic.) You can reach her at francinecohen@mindspring.com