Hotels continue to raise the bar for crowds who crave a social setting where they can enjoy tapas and cocktails with a side of fresh air. With sweeping vistas high above the city streets, rooftop bars have an everlasting appeal.
“Do people ever get tired of eating outside on the sidewalk on a beautiful day? Take what people like about that and transfer it to a rooftop space,” says Bob Amick, founder and owner of Atlanta-based firm Concentrics Restaurants. The restaurant operating group, which owns, manages, and develops concepts across the U.S., is most recently known for its development of the award-winning State and Lake, cibbo matto, and ROOF at theWit Hotel in Chicago.
“The key to rooftop bars is to have the confidence to make them work,” says Amick, whose latest project is the Three Sixty Rooftop Bar at Hilton St. Louis at the Ballpark, slated for a July opening. “I’m a big believer that you’ve got to make it work year in, year out, all the time.”
To achieve this, Amick stresses the importance of creating sufficient outdoor space, plus flex space that can bring the outside in when the weather is nice. “I’ve been to too many places that have done it 90 percent inside and are afraid of the outside, and it doesn’t open up,” he says.
Dianna Wong, founder of Los Angeles-based Dianna Wong Architecture & Interior Design Inc., says rooftop spaces have become more prevalent over the past five years. “Any venue that has a great view, a rooftop bar seems to make a lot of sense from a market point of view,” she says.
Wong’s rooftop portfolio includes the POV at W Washington D.C., and the Governors Ballroom in Hollywood, Calif., where the official post-Oscar party is held. Given that weather is a vital factor to consider when designing a rooftop space, Wong recommends using outdoor furniture that’s made of extremely durable materials and lightweight for portability. The set-up must also allow guests to comfortably nosh and imbibe.
Play to different markets, Amick says, from the after-work crowd to late night clubbers, travelers to locals. To shape the mood and transition from day to night, Wong says lighting has a significant role. During the day, natural light gives the POV terrace a garden-like feel. In the evenings, the staff dims the lights, turns on lanterns, and lights candles.
When Nakheel Hotels purchased Hotel Washington in 2006, the company treated the Beaux Arts-style building to a $100 million facelift before re-opening in 2009 as a W hotel. The group selected Wong’s firm to redesign the interiors for the entire hotel, including its rooftop terrace that overlooks the White House lawn and surrounding monuments from 11 stories high.
Upon seeing the rooftop space, Wong’s initial impression was that the terrace had seen better days, and the interior appeared drab and under-utilized. “It really looked like it was an afterthought, even though it’s one of the most famous bars,” she says.
Wong decided to play up the impressive view and capture the value of the space by flowing the interior component outdoors. The resulting POV (Point of View) lounge and terrace has become a place for old timers to wax nostalgic and a hip, trendy haunt on evenings and weekends for the younger set. Guests can snack on tapas from Culinary Concepts by Jean Georges, or sip all-natural cocktails made fresh with a fruit and vegetable juicing station.
Before the renovation, Wong says there was a portable bar in the middle of the terrace that became an obstruction. She created a new bar, paneled with fresh grass, and situated it at the end of the space instead. By adding drink stands along the 12-foot-tall window line, she increased the indoor lounge occupancy.
The lounge has black and red lacquered walls, zebra-striped cowhide stools, and black-and-white tufted couches, while the terrace has red velveteen banquettes, steel-framed daybeds, and chocolate high-back wicker lounge chairs underneath a red-and-white awning. The color scheme and modern designs refer back to the hotel lobby, and Wong’s tongue-in-cheek play on masculine and feminine.
“The whole theme for the entire hotel is about the politics of pleasure, which has to do with the fine line you walk in the capital,” Wong says. “What is the real power suit? Is it the pinstripe suit or lace negligee?”
A VIEW FROM EVERY ANGLE
As its name implies, the Three Sixty Rooftop Bar wraps entirely around Hilton St. Louis’ east tower, lending views of the riverfront, Arch, city skyline, and Busch Stadium. The 6,000-square-foot facility atop 25 stories is the final piece in a five-year effort by St. Louis-based Lodging Hospitality Management Inc., which acquired the former Marriott hotel in 2005, to renovate every aspect of the property.
Unlike Amick’s ROOF project at theWit, where the infrastructure of the new, freestanding building accommodated for a rooftop bar, the Three Sixty is being built on an existing, 25-year-old building. The project has proved itself a little more daunting than ROOF, in terms of moving elevators, machinery, and utilities, and lifting all materials up by crane. “It’s quite an undertaking from that standpoint, probably a lot more than we anticipated on the front end that it would be,” says Amick, who turned to restaurant architecture firm The Johnson Studio to design Three Sixty.
Although Amick describes Three Sixty as a bar first, restaurant second, the 275-seat, year-round lounge will offer a menu of 20 to 25 small plates. “It’s not a lot of knife and fork food,” Amick says. “It’s the kind of food people don’t mind sharing.” A comprehensive beer, wine and cocktail program will feature house-made infusions.
One third of the space at Three Sixty is purely outdoors. The large outdoor bar has seating for 30 and fire pits at either end, plus plenty of booths, additional seating, and a drink rail. Two smaller, corner fire pits have wrap-around seating and telescopes for patrons who want a closer look inside the ballpark. A wood burning pizza oven area with communal tables and a small open kitchen and wine wall flank the central elevator bank. Private and semi-private dining spaces along the two sides have nanowalls that open up and create a flow of outdoor to indoor space. The main indoor space, which faces out toward the Arch and downtown St. Louis, has a curved bar and dining tables, as well as two more outdoor fire pit corners with nanowalls that close off in winter months.
“It helps to have theWit under our belt, and the accolades it got in terms of what we did,” Amick says. “All of a sudden, I’m a rooftop expert.”