Roof bars are no longer an oddity at hotels, but that doesn’t make them any less appealing. Drinks with an eye-popping view a pairing the never gets old. I found a full hand with money vistas of the ultimate New York City icon – the Empire State Building. Four are open year round so you can gaze whenever the mood strikes upon “the closest thing to heaven” to quote a line from not one, but two legendary movies.
Refinery Rooftop, the Refinery Hotel
This smartly designed roof bar crowns the Refinery hotel as jauntily as a fedora, an apt comparison since the building was once a hat factory. Millinery details appear throughout the year-old hotel, like the framed photos of hats straight out of Woman of the Year. The forward-looking bar, in turn, winks at the past with handsomely weathered roof boards harvested from the building’s original water tower.
With three discrete areas, there’s something for everyone and every season – a sprawling wood deck looking directly onto the Emp, an airy bar area with rustic tables, Emp views and a retractable glass roof, and a glamorous seating area with leather club chairs and a blazing fireplace (but no Emp). A more-than-agreeable place, in other words, to linger over wine, beer or a pricey cocktail from the menu crafted by mixmaster Alex Ott.
The Refinery, 63 West 38th Street; 212 664-0310.
Pod 39 Roof Lounge, The Pod Hotel (39)
Not only does the open-air roof lounge at the Pod Hotel gaze bang onto the Empire State Building, but the 1916 brick hotel tower – formerly Allerton House, a hotel for bachelors – was designed by Arthur Loomis Harmon, a partner in the architectural firm that designed the Empire State Building.
Besides its unmatched Emp cred, the roof bar at the two-year-old Pod 39 offers the most agreeably priced drinks of the bunch. Yes, Margaritas, Mexican beer and California Cabernet are served in heavy plastic glassware. But the roof’s medieval-inflected brick arches impart an otherworldly atmosphere — part Cloisters, part Hogwarts — that makes this open-only-in-good-weather roof bar unlike anyplace else in town.
The Pod Hotel (39), 145 West 39th Street; 212 865-5700.
Top of the Strand, The Strand Hotel
In your face is the best way to describe the view of the Empire State Building from a high-back stool at Top of the Strand. The 102-story tower is so big, so immediate you feel like you could reach out and pat King Kong’s fur if the timing was right. Having a cocktail in hand only embellishes the pleasingly surreal experience.
If the views are big, the bar is small, the 21st-story topknot on The Strand’s sliver tower opened in 2009. But like the hotel downstairs, the surroundings up top are stylish, dreamed up by Lydia Marks, set designer for The Devil Wears Prada. The bar is open evenings year round and also serves up small plate snacks.
The Strand Hotel, 33 West 37th Street; 212 448-1024.
Spyglass Rooftop Bar, Archer Hotel
Step into the airy front room of the compact contemporary Spyglass roof bar atop the newly built Archer, and the Empire State Building is hard to miss. It’s impossibly huge and close, especially if you’re lucky enough to score a backless seat at the high table ledge facing out 22-stories above midtown. You’ll be humming Alicia Keys – or Gershwin — within moments.
With clever touches and bold flourishes – purple leather bar stools, tufted turquoise leather walls – designer Glen Coben (TRYP New York, NY Hilton/Fashion District) displays skill at instilling interest in a sliver tower. A second room and deck wrap around the back of the bar, complete with leathery sofas and small tables. You can’t see the Empire State Building, but the inimitable topknot of the Chrysler Building beckons. And you can see it year round.
Archer Hotel, 45 West 38th Street; 212 719-4100.
PhD Rooftop Lounge, Dream Downtown
Anything that was once the world’s tallest building is hard to miss. Which explains how the views of the Empire State Building from the PhD lounge at Dream Downtown, nearly 20 blocks south, are so thrilling. Located in the heart of Google Country, the racy bi-level roof lounge sits atop the three-year-old hotel best known for the swimming pool above the lobby (glass circles in the pool’s floor allow lobbyists to see flickers of swimmers, a foot here, an arm there).
Open year-round and awash in wood, leather, marble and glass, the lounge offers plenteous seating indoors and out, a party vibe (the Meatpacking District is steps away) and, frequently, a DJ. And drinks.
Dream Downtown, 355 West 16th Street; 212 229-2559.