The Hotel Rooftop: Expensive Drinks, Priceless Views


What is spurring the latest incarnations, said Henry Harteveldt, travel analyst for Atmosphere Research, is the marketing potential of the picture-taking opportunities that rooftops afford guests, who post their photos on social media, particularly Instagram.


The alleyway entrance to Moxy Times Square’s rooftop.

Juliana Sohn for The New York Times

Developers are taking those social media moments into consideration when building a rooftop experience, said Jonah Chusid, vice president of hotel operations for Espresso Hospitality.

“People will pay a premium to be able to take a photo from a rooftop restaurant with a phenomenal view,” Mr. Chusid said.

His company manages the William Vale, a 183-room hotel that opened last fall in Brooklyn’s popular Williamsburg neighborhood. Its Westlight rooftop bar offers 360-degree views of the city and is operated by the NoHo Hospitality Group with food by Andrew Carmellini.

Indeed, food and beverage revenue generated on rooftops can be significant, said Bjorn Hanson, clinical professor at the Jonathan M. Tisch Center for Hospitality and Tourism at New York University. Beverage sales are the second-most profitable part of hotel operations in the United States, after room revenue, he said, adding that hotels can charge a premium for rooftop drinks, making them even more profitable.

Rooftop amenities have become so popular that many hotels use dedicated elevators for them and often give hotel guests priority access. Moxy’s rooftop, for example, is accessible through a separate alleyway on Seventh Avenue with a “speakeasy feeling,” said Mitchell C. Hochberg, president of Lightstone.


The Westlight rooftop at the William Vale hotel in Brooklyn.

Kirsten Chilstrom

Priority access is given to guests at the Envoy Hotel, a 136-room Autograph Collection hotel in Boston, whose Lookout Rooftop and Bar became that city’s “place to see and be seen” after it opened several years ago, said Neil H. Shah, president of Hersha Hospitality Trust, the Envoy’s owner. On weekends, he said, many of the hotel’s guests “stay only to get to the rooftop.”

Mr. Brandman of Journal Hotels said hotel rooftop amenities “truly create a connection.”

“The rooftop is really about an extension of the community,” he said. “It can create experiences that didn’t exist before.”

Hotels cater to locals with a variety of entertainment and classes, some free, on their rooftops. This month, for example, the William Vale is offering a “sunrise silent disco,” where music is broadcast to guests wearing wireless headphones, and the Moxy has Friday morning exercise classes taught by modelFIT, a Manhattan gym. The Ace Hotel Downtown Los Angeles, which opened in 2014, offers a wide range of activities, including stand-up comedy sessions, D.J. residencies and a flower dyeing workshop.

Fred Dixon, president and chief executive of NYC & Company, the marketing organization of the city’s tourism industry, suggested that rooftops had begun to replace nightclubs in New York.

“They are multigenerational, not intimidating like a nightclub, and are much more casual than a nightclub,” he said.


A walkway into the bar area at the Moxy Times Square’s rooftop.

Juliana Sohn for The New York Times

Of the almost 650 hotels that the industry tracker STR estimates occupy the city’s five boroughs, some 70 offer a rooftop experience, Mr. Dixon said.

Certain hotel rooftops have been developed for specific purposes. The $370 million Marriott Marquis Houston, which opened in December, is made up of a tower with 1,000 guest rooms and a podium that contains the hotel’s ballroom, among other facilities. A $10 million amenity deck, including a “lazy river” water feature in the shape of Texas, was built on the podium’s rooftop specifically to attract local residents.

In fact, the lazy river has attracted both families and meeting and convention groups to the hotel, which is connected to the city’s convention center, said Luke Charlton, chief operating officer of the hotel’s co-owner, the RIDA Development Corporation. He predicted that food and beverage revenue this year from the podium’s rooftop — which also features a 75-foot lap pool and a bar and grill and is open only to hotel guests — would exceed projections.

“We’re doing double what we and Marriott thought we would do,” he said. He added that the effect of Hurricane Harvey on the hotel had been “relatively minor.”

Cold or inclement weather can, of course, pose a challenge to hotel rooftop operators. The Envoy, for one, has come up with a novel way to handle this: In February, it installed on its rooftop six heavy plastic igloos, each seating up to 10 people and containing carpeting, chairs, blankets, and electrical outlets for lighting and heaters.

Noisy rooftop patrons can also be problematic, potentially alienating both hotel guests and neighbors. Mr. Brandman said Journal Hotels would strive to “maintain a certain type of environment reflective of the hotel, not looking to be overcrowded or noisy,” on the rooftop of the Mondrian Park Avenue. Similarly, the Envoy’s Lookout closes one hour earlier than most Boston bars, in deference to its guests and neighbors, Mr. Shah said.

And he, like no doubt many other hotel owners, will continue to forge ahead with more rooftop development. Hersha has already applied for city approval to expand Lookout by 1,900 square feet and wants to add a retractable roof, making the entire space usable year round.

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