Rooftop bars have boomed in popularity over the last several years. These sky-high spaces attract customers in urban areas where outdoor space is limited as well as those who seek out unique and shareable experiences. However, the logistics of operating a popular, publically accessible space on top of a building full of hotel guests are much more involved than a typical street-level F&B outlet. What’s more, rooftops are subject to swings in the weather and harsher conditions than even ground-level patios or lower-level terraces. LODGING spoke with Rob Polacek, chief creative officer and partner at The Puccini Group, about how to create a dynamic and comfortable rooftop space that attracts guests and visitors year-round.
What drives people to rooftops?
Greenery is a huge driver, particularly in cities. In very urban or dense cities, being able to go to a rooftop and be surrounded by natural elements and plants just makes people feel better. It’s a destination that allows people to get away from the day. You’re stressed out all day at work and you just want to get out and go for a drink with your friends, and being in an outdoor garden environment allows us to be a little more relaxed. Art is also a huge component—whether it’s art on the walls or art as a sculpture piece. Some kind of fire pit or fire feature is also very helpful, particularly in colder months. Most fire pits don’t necessarily throw off enough heat to keep people warm, but the idea of fire makes people think a little bit differently.
What makes a rooftop bar an attractive place for guests to hang around?
When we’ve done research on rooftop bars, we noticed that in select cities that we looked at, particularly in Chicago, some of the more successful ones actually had some kind of food cooking or capabilities. It didn’t have to be a steak dinner but it had to be something substantial enough. You can’t just walk outside and go somewhere else because you’re on top of a roof. When you’re with a group of people and you’re going for a drink after work and someone’s hungry, that person may deter that group from going to that bar because there’s no food. It’s a big thing to consider, and getting a kitchen up there or some kind of cooking facility is a bit of a challenge and also an expense.
What can hotels do to use this space when the weather’s not so nice?
Consider some kind of shade or shelter that’s potentially and ideally retractable. On a nice day, you want to be in the nice day. Putting the effort and the money into something that has the ability to be used as shaded shelter goes a long way in any climate, whether it’s super cold out or super hot out or always rainy. Having the ability to adjust with the weather is really important as well. You can maintain consistency in terms of your hours of operation. On a rainy day, guests will go hang out on the rooftop if they know it has a cover. It allows the guest to have an expectation of it being open no matter what the weather is. Also, some kind of permanent structure or structured canopy allows you to put in heating vents or radiant heaters which are also a huge push in terms of keeping people out there in the colder evenings.
What kind of materials make for a dynamic rooftop that can weather all seasons?
We usually like to keep with natural materials for the most part—stone, concrete, and teak, if possible. There are a lot of other great synthetic materials out there, mostly with synthetic surfaces. Technology’s getting a little bit better with them, and we’ve used them in the past when a client really wanted something impactful without paying for actual stone. A lot of manufacturers say these materials will work outside, but they’re not there yet when it comes to the harshness of weather. The sun, acid rain, cold, and heat starts to really take a toll on any material that’s out there. That’s why we always suggest trying to stay authentic with stone, concrete, and wood since most buildings are made out of that to begin with to withstand the weather. Stay away from horizontal surfaces that are metal because they become really cold in the winter time and really hot in the sun. For flooring, we like to suggest some kind of pavers system where water drains through the pavers and to the original roof of the building. Using stone pavers is the easiest thing to maintain in terms of durability, as opposed to a teak or synthetic wood floor.
How do you account for acoustics in rooftop design?
That’s always a hard one because sometimes you just don’t have four walls and a ceiling. It tends to be a little bit cumbersome when you have to start hanging acoustic panels just to keep noise down. Depending on where you are—in Chicago versus Miami—you want to hear the ocean versus hear the traffic. It’s more of a per-case basis in terms of trying to maintain some kind of sound absorption, particularly if you’re in a fully outdoor space.
What are some considerations for making a rooftop space publically accessible year-round?
If there’s a pool with a rooftop bar component, it gets a little tricky when you’re trying to mingle the two users—hotel guests and outside guests. If the rooftop is open during the daytime, it’s hard to keep outside guests out of the pool for hotel guests who just want to relax. In the evening, the pool has to close at a certain point, so that allows the rooftop to become more of a destination or bar. That’s always been a tricky subject.
It’s also hard to have a rooftop bar when you don’t have a dedicated elevator that can be turned on and off, up and down. You start to mingle the two users—hotel guests and rooftop guests—and you don’t necessarily want those elevators stopping at all floors. It becomes a tricky situation, particularly when people have a safety concern.