For most New Yorkers, simply escaping the city is a primary summer goal. But to get the quickest and easiest change of scenery, make a beeline for the rooftop bars and backyard gardens that burst into life once the mercury hits 75. Since they're not exactly in plain view, we’ve rounded up the most impressive newcomers—along with mainstays you simply shouldn't miss—to kick off a season full of happy hours. These are not mere white-wine-and-sunshine joints; these bars serve serious cocktails from big-name mixologists.
Just across from McCarren Park is Williamsburg’s newest boutique hotel, the William Vale, opening in mid-July. On its 22nd-floor rooftop: food and drinks run by Andrew Carmellini’s Noho Hospitality Group and a wraparound balcony with panoramic views of the city. Consider it a worthy alternative to the constantly packed Wythe Hotel that’s right around the corner.
Over the past few summers, no rooftop bar could hold a candle to Eataly’s 14th-floor beer garden, Birreria. Now the same expansive space—with views of the Empire State and Flatiron buildings—has been reborn as Sabbia, a pop-up inspired by the Italian Riviera. It resembles an upscale beach lounge, with deck chairs and cabanas, a seafood-heavy menu, and flights of craft beer served in a model boat. Order carafes of summer-friendly spritzes such as the Sorrento Spritz with mint, cucumber, lemon, and Prosecco. Oysters, which come courtesy of the Massachusetts-based specialists at Island Creek, are also a must.
What's the next-best option to après-sail drinks on a private yacht? Negronis aboard a historic wooden schooner. That’s what you’ll get at Grand Banks, a former cod fishing boat docked off Pier 25 in Tribeca. Behind the shipboard bar is Lauren Schell, formerly of the acclaimed Milk & Honey, mixing such drinks as the pomegranate-elderflower sparkling wine, “Locals Only.” You won’t go hungry, either: A menu of seafood-focused small plates comes courtesy of chef Kerry Heffernan, an avid fisherman and the opening executive chef at Eleven Madison Park.
From its beachy cabanas to its mini lobster rolls, The Drift at Gansevoort Park Avenue is a Midtown oasis that’s all about surf culture. The signature Frosé—a frozen rosé sorbet topped with pink bubbly—is a perfect day drink. (They’ve already coined the hashtag #froseallday.) And you’ll be able to handle more of them by staying hydrated; servers offer up coconut water from freshly cracked designer coconuts (yes, you read that right). The only things that could add to the allure: a salty breeze and breaking waves in the distance.
Roof at Park South
While some rooftop venues trade on location alone, there are rare top-floor bars whose craft cocktails are the equal of any in town. Such is the case at midtown's Park South, run by respected Boston restaurateurs (and James Beard award-winners) Tim and Nancy Cushman. Beverage director Ted Kilpatrick’s drinks include intelligent takes on summer classics, such as the “Bitter Mai Tai” with Cappelletti and orgeat alongside two rums, the “Italian Greyhound” with bitter Punt e Mes and grapefruit, or the impossibly decadent Duke’s Martini: frozen Plymouth gin served with caviar.
This popular Williamsburg spot—known for nouveau-Peruvian cuisine by an Eleven Madison Park alum—has just launched a rooftop lounge that’s drawing big-time buzz. Just like chef Erik Ramirez, the bartenders have serious pedigrees: Jessica Gonzalez has done time at Death & Co., while Lynnette Marrero came from Rye House and Freeman’s. Their innovative cocktails use New World spirits (think pisco, rum, and tequila) and have clever names such as the “Dolly Llama,” made with Tempranillo, strawberries, and the Bolivian grape spirit, Singani 63.
The word “atmospheric” doesn’t begin to describe Maison Premiere’s lush, straight-out-of-New Orleans backyard. Where better to spend a sultry summer night than seated at a wrought-iron table with lights twinkling overhead, a spread of ice-cold oysters on the table, and a sherry cobbler in hand? Here, the regularly-rotating cocktail menu is among the strongest in the city; recent highlights include the “Barber of Seville,” with rye, sherry, lemon, and orgeat, and the “Carondelet,” with Beefeater gin, citrus, blossom honey, and vanilla. The extensive Champagne list is icing on the cake.
Part art installation, part rooftop bar, Gallow Green sits atop the McKittrick Hotel—the fictional Scottish inn better known for its resident theatrical production, Sleep No More. Fittingly, Gallow Green itself feels like a theater set, with an “abandoned” early 20th century railway car and deliberately overgrown landscaping. The atmosphere may feel put-on, but the drinks are the real deal: Get the “Charmed Life,” with gin, lemon, and bitter orange Montenegro.
The Viceroy Central Park’s 29th-floor lounge is a year-round favorite. Designed by Roman and Williams, its interior has the aesthetic of a sleek yacht, all walnut and leather and brass. But it’s never more alluring than in the summer, when you can sip a blood orange Veuve Clicquot spritz or a jalapeño margarita, with Central Park in sight.
Carey Jones is the author of Brooklyn Bartender: A Modern Guide to Cocktails and Spirits, which was published by Hachette on May 24, 2016.