“Ho! Ho! Ho! To the bottle I go. To heal my heart and drown my woe. Rain may fall, and wind may blow And many miles be still to go but under a tall tree will I lie And let the clouds go sailing by.”
– J.R.R. Tolkien
Towards the end of the 19th century, New York conductor Rudolph Aronson returned from Europe inspired by their practice of staging open air plays and musicals, but with space at a premium in the burgeoning Big Apple, he created a garden on the roof of his newly built Broadway establishment, Casino Theatre. Other auditoriums soon caught on and similar set ups sprung up throughout the district, and the sky-reaching foundations for the rooftop bar were established (this was also the pre-air conditioning age so patrons were also grateful for the free breeze).
When the original Madison Square Garden opened in 1890, there was a neo-Renaissance garden on its roof, replete with a 100m bell tower and arches and enough space to squeeze on 1,000 souls (5,000 turned up on opening night, most didn’t make it up, including the hired band).
Today, rooftop bars are evermore imaginative—not to mention lofty, too. The highest is Hong Kong’s Ozone at the Ritz Carlton hotel. Positioned 480m up, on the 118th floor, the plush cocktail bar overlooks Victoria Harbour across to the neon central business district, and entertainment hub, Wanchai. In Kuala Lumpur, the Heli Lounge Bar faces off against the Petronas Towers, it’s 36th storey site—on a converted helipad—is noted for its lack of barriers or side rails for an added thrill. Bangkok’s Sky Bar is another gem now known the world over thanks to its starring role in the second Hangover movie. Perched on the 63rd floor of the Lebuna Hotel, it affords breathtaking views of the Thai capital, especially as the sun sinks beyond the Chao Praya river.
Verve caught up with a couple of rooftop Kiwi establishments, and one from overseas…
Dr Rudi’s, Auckland
Good luck finding a local with a better view than this stellar third-level bar overlooking the Viaduct, that boasts its own brewery and even a pair of tenpin bowling lanes. “When the sun is shining, you can kick back on the deck to admire the harbour and savour a beer made here on site,” says, whose favourite international haunts include Melbourne’s Cookie bar, the Brooklyn Bowl in New York, and too-many-to-mention beer gardens in Germany. “Our menu of small plates to seafood platters to pizza by the foot is just the thing to soak up all that beer too!” Dr Rudi’s, a relatively recent addition to Auckland’s social scene, is all about “people having a great time at all hours in a unique space”, with the staff leading the way. “We like to think our team knows how to have fun and provide an epic level of service while they’re at it!” says ……………“There’s no place for egos here at Dr Rudi’s.”
Unique Rooftop Bar, Bali
This raised bar is positioned atop a fabulous 25m infinity pool overlooking rainforest and the ocean beyond, part of the hotel Rimba Jimbaran Bali by Ayana. “The best time to enjoy a drink here is definitely during sunset,” says the establishment’s assistant PR manager, Yeli Pratiwi, who recommends the Mexican Sandy cocktail of rum with fresh passionfruit and lemon juice topped up with a splash of Corona. “We get a lot of compliments about our drinks which us one of the most rewarding parts of the job.” There’s plenty of Mexican-themed fare to accompany the Latin-inspired cocktails too, such as shrimp taquitos with chilli salsa, and burritos. Yeli adds that the staff’s “passion, and positive personalities” are reflected in the bar’s “creative and innovative” offerings. “My team are happy and motivated and determined to ensure guests leave with a memorable experience.”
“Sangria, definitely,” comes the reply when Maria Boyle is asked which tipple best sums up her Spanish-inspired rooftop hangout on the capital’s Courtenay Place. “We have a menu dedicated entirely to it, with ten differently flavours, mainly available by the jug, and some by the glass too. They’re insanely popular, especially on the rooftop in summer.”
Maria says people generally settle in for the night at Basque, where “there’s something for everyone”, and is always keen to check out other rooftop and craft beer places when out of town. “Some of the best are in Melbourne for sure,” she says. “I love the rooftop bar above Cookie, as well as the little hideaway places. Not sure if it’s still there, but Gordon’s Wine Bar in central London blew me away when I first moved over, and in general most of the London pubs—a favourite was the Coat and Badge in Putney. There are finally some decent craft beer popping up in South America too, where we lived for a while, such as an amazing little bar in Palermo, Buenos Aires called Cerveceria Nacional.” As for Basque, Maria sums the place up as a “laid-back rooftop tapas bar with fine food, excellent beer and sangria offerings, and the friendliest staff in town”. “Bartenders must be fast friendly and efficient, and, for us, excellent peripheral vision,” she adds. “You must be able to see everything—the people waiting, the places that need clearing, it all happens at once and you need to prioritise what comes first and next, it’s like Tetris!”