The very idea of a “rooftop bar” can conjure up images of too expensive drinks, terrible crowds, and a vibe that’s more “outdoor club” than proper bar. Yet, places do exist that balance stunning views with well-made drinks and snacks. Yes, these spots can get crowded on nice nights, and some do maintain a bit of “scene” — but that’s also sort of the point.
2. Gallow Green
542 W. 27th St., nr. 11th Ave.; 212-904-1883
This city is full of hidden treasures, and Gallow Green, on the roof of Sleep No More’s McKittrick Hotel, is one of the best. Your journey begins with a mysterious elevator ride that deposits you in a theatrically staged secret garden that not only adapts to the seasons, but leans into them. Verdant in the warmer months with fanciful punch bowls, greenery-lined walkways, and musical entertainment, the space is transformed in the winter into a rustic lodge with hidden rooms housing cozy, flannel-lined bunk beds and multiple nooks and crannies to sip specialty cocktails. The outdoor area is not off-limits in the cold; it’s spruced up with blazing fire pits that warm you up along with your $17 mulled wine. Reservations are recommended, especially if you’re headed to weekend brunch.
3. Bar SixtyFive
30 Rockefeller Plaza, at 49th St.; 212-632-5000
Consider this: You have friends in town and they want to see the skyline. You shell out $34 for a visit to Top of the Rock, which offers a breathtaking view from 70 floors up, but, sadly, no cocktails. Just five floors below is Bar SixtyFive, attached to the storied Rainbow Room. You’ll pay about $25 for a well-made Martini, but it comes with a side of dazzling vistas everywhere you look. Stand at the bar or reserve a mother-of-pearl-flecked table, or sit outdoors if you’d like. A caution if you leave your drink unattended: It gets windy.
4. La Birreria
200 Fifth Ave., at 23rd St.; 212-937-8910
Mingle with beer aficionados and stargazers alike at this rooftop bar and restaurant above the massive Eataly in Flatiron. Note that the bar area — serving wine, cocktails, house-brewed naturally carbonated cask ales, and a new dedicated rosé menu with over 50 producers — is relegated to the side, and the restaurant tables are reserved for food orders. But you’ll want to order food: This summer, Batali & Co. have opened the retractable roof for the Italian seaside-inspired restaurant Sabbia, a pop-up serving dishes like a grilled whole branzino with artichoke and fennel, and lighter fare including a new bruschetta menu, an oyster bar replenished fresh daily from Island Creek farm in Massachusetts, and a couple of takes on the traditional flatbread piadina, a street food often served at the beach. Come in, try a signature unfiltered beer (or a frozé cocktail!), order some nibbles, and maybe even check out an Italian movie, part of Sabbia’s new rooftop series. But either way, don’t forget to look up.
5. The Ides
80 Wythe Ave., nr. N. 11th St., Brooklyn; 718-460-8006
Just down the street from Westlight (and 16 floors down), this Wythe Hotel hot spot makes a solid argument for crossing the Williamsburg Bridge: considerable indoor-outdoor space for mingling, the pedigree of restaurateur Andrew Tarlow (Marlow & Sons, Diner, Reynard), and, yes, widespread scenery. But because of its limited reservation system, waits can be arduous, and once you get up there, you’ll be hit with crowds. Survive both and be rewarded with the cityscape of Manhattan and Brooklyn, and even save a little cash, as gratuity is included with your order of deviled eggs and $16 cocktails (a recent implementation across all of Tarlow’s restaurants).
848 Washington St., nr. 13th St.; 212-645-4646
Sometimes, you’re in the mood to party, and at those times, you want it all: the lights of Manhattan, the celebrity DJ, the goddamn disco ball. And for those times, Le Bain steps up. Sure it’s sceney, but come early enough or on a weekday and you can actually enjoy a quiet afternoon stretched out on the turf at the top of the Standard, spotting yachts on the Hudson as you sip your overpriced cocktail and nibble on a housemade crêpe. When the sun goes down, the music goes up, and by the end of the night, you may have even ended up in the Jacuzzi. (Yes, they have one of those.)
15 Thompson St., nr. Grand St.; 212-201-9118
The outdoor pool at the James hotel lures ample roof-dwellers in the summer, but for the winter months, this Soho bar has another secret weapon: the fireplace. Add that to their floor-to-ceiling windows, plus a drink menu that includes items like the mezcal and cinnamon-infused Mexican Hot Chocolate, topped with toasted marshmallows, and you’ve got yourself a year-round night worth remembering.
113 Jane St., nr. West St.; 212-924-6700
Compared to the lavish, clubby Jane Ballroom, the West Village hotel’s rooftop bar is quiet and serene. The space famously used to serve as an apartment for RuPaul, and it includes a small outdoor terrace, with unobstructed waterfront views of the Hudson, plus an indoor bar space. But, shockingly, on a recent Friday night at prime time, it was possible to walk right in without waiting in line, an anomaly for a rooftop bar. —Sierra Tishgart