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 rooftop bar opened at the McKittrick Hotel as an addendum to Sleep No More, but it’s become a destination in its own right. You’ll still feel the theatricality of the show: The open-air space is outfitted like a magical 1940s garden, with overgrown plants, twinkling Christmas lights, and an antique train car. There’s often a brass band playing, and, this summer, you can catch a rooftop film series. It’s dark, sexy, and charmingly campy. Aside from bowls of the Gallow Green punch, there’s an extensive selection of cocktails for $17. The food is simple — burrata with pesto, mini lobster rolls, lamb meatballs — but it’s executed quite well, and somehow, despite the crowds (yes, this bar gets slammed), it comes out in a timely fashion. Plus, the $45 ticketed rooftop brunch, which includes live music, a buffet, and a mimosa, is the perfect place for a big group or a birthday party.
In terms of design, this is one of the most spectacular bars, with a sprawling terrace offering clear views of Manhattan, and a gorgeous indoor bar with banquettes and ample seating. Andrew Tarlow is responsible for the excellent small plates and cocktails (and you can also decamp downstairs to his much-loved restaurant Reynard). The vibe is certainly Brooklyn-cool, if that’s your thing, and it’s a great place to mingle and flirt, but the bar loses points because it’s too popular. Avoid the lines by arriving as early as possible (it opens at 2 p.m.) and staking your territory.
4. Roof at Park South
125 E. 27th St., nr. Park Ave.; 212-204-5222
This Gramercy spot earns points, first and foremost, for its extremely convenient location. Tim and Nancy Cushman, the award-winning Boston restaurateurs who expanded to New York in 2014, deliver on the food front, with pizzas, truffle fries, chicken wings, and funnel cake with blueberry sugar. The cocktails, like a piña colada with five-year Barbadian rum and the “Swamp Water” with Avuá Cachaca, are equally playful (though, fair warning, when the bar is really crowded, drink service can slow to a crawl). Yet it’s an undeniably attractive space, with views of the Chrysler and Empire State buildings, and even a glass-encased fireplace to keep guests warm on chilly nights. And the bar really shines as an option for private parties since it’s possible to rent portions of the space instead of the entire roof.