The sexiest rooftop bars in the world

It doesn't get much hotter than the poolside bar on the roof of the chic Standard Hotel in downtown Los Angeles.
It doesn't get much hotter than the poolside bar on the roof of the chic Standard Hotel in downtown Los Angeles. © The Standard/Tim Street Porter
/ Source: Forbes

Pink flamingos wander through the grass and ducks float on a nearby pond as you sip champagne beneath a starry sky. No, you’re not on a Caribbean island. You’re on the roof of an Art Deco building in one of west London’s most well-known shopping districts. Welcome to The Roof Gardens at Kensington High Street, where you can have a cocktail and gaze at the city’s skyline among tables of elegant locals.

In recent years, a growing number of luxurious open-air rooftop bars have popped up all over the world. According to Robbie Bargh, founder and managing director of the Gorgeous Group, a U.K. consultancy firm specializing in luxury bars, brands and service, “the smoking ban in European cities and the U.S. has contributed to the rise of rooftop bars.” Bargh says there is also a “status” attitude attached to these establishments that contributes to their growing appeal.

Indeed. Nothing screams “I’ve made it” more than sipping a crisp gin and tonic on a deluxe high-rise overlooking a winding river in Thailand, or imbibing a lavender margarita on a breezy terrace as the sun sets behind you in Spain.

“It’s about the feeling one gets from it,” says designer Todd Oldham of the Spire Bar & Lounge, a rooftop haven he created atop The Hotel in Miami Beach. Sun-kissed travelers lounge on white sofas spread across the terrace, where wooden floorboards are painted in sunset hues of white, orange and red. Breathtaking views are complemented by a luminous Art Deco spire, an original from the Tiffany Hotel, built in 1939. The spire turns blue, green and off-white, and “in combination with the sunset, can be a spectacular experience,” Oldham says.

The Spire Bar offers well-heeled travelers and Miami locals a decadent yet low-key version of South Beach. “The breezy elegance of it is what keeps it in people’s minds,” says Oldham. “For the 45-minute crazy transitional light show that happens when the sun sets, it really is an unforgettable experience.”

On the other side of the world, simply saying the word “Bombay” floods your mind with images of that city’s head-spinning mania. When the hot, chaotic streets of the city now known as Mumbai become too much, retreat skyward for a cocktail at the Dome Terrace Sky Bar. On the exquisitely chic roof of the Intercontinental, you can enjoy a Kir Royale while you gaze at the Arabian Sea and the luminous Marine Drive promenade below.

But open-air bars aren’t only popular for their ocean views. A number of stylish venues have cropped up in the hearts of major metropolitan cities, including Bangkok, London, New York and Los Angeles.

It is a very unique experience to have an outdoor environment when you’re surrounded by urban activities, Oldham says. “When you have New York vistas and lights, it can really be quite dazzling. In terms of a trend, it’s a huge luxury when anyone has the opportunity to do design work on a rooftop. The space will always be used.”

The Roof Gardens is a lush sanctuary teeming with exotic wildlife and themed gardens hoisted 100 feet above Kensington High Street. On the largest roof garden in Europe (1.5 acres), you can enjoy a flute of champagne in the Spanish Garden and gaze at the city's skyline for an otherworldly experience right in the heart of London, or unwind in the expansive English Garden that flaunts a pond with ducks and flamingos. Call ahead.

Above 60 is an exclusive lounge with stunning views of downtown Manhattan and the Empire State Building. Open to members and hotel guests only, the bar is situated on the roof of 60 Thompson, a modern boutique hotel designed by Thomas O’Brien. In the heart of tourist-thick Soho, the Moroccan-inspired lounge is idyllic for in-the-know New Yorkers and travelers seeking a lavish refuge from Manhattan.

Matt Morley, of brand consultancy firm the Hospitality Partners, says “the best rooftop bars have 'location' and closely related to that, 'contrast,' embedded in their DNA. As such, they contain inherent drama and intrigue. They tell a story that an underground bar would have to work twice as hard to re-create.”

Panoramic views of the Arabian Sea and the luminous string of lights forming the Marine Drive promenade make the Dome Terrace Sky Bar at the Intercontinental one of Mumbai's most romantic terraces. Roomy couches, soft red lights streaming through the lounge and billowing curtains create a stirring fusion of East and West in this moonlit open-air bar. Dome offers a noteworthy selection of premium wines, cocktails and cigars. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, live musicians play along with the electronic music wafting through the lounge.

Morley adds that the luxury consumer’s desire to “climb skyward” is most strongly felt in “dense, heavily populated urban metropolises” like New York City. “60 Thompson’s A60 bar just wouldn’t have the same appeal in a three-story block by the beach in Cape Town, for example. Remove the location and you remove the rooftop bar concept’s primary pull factor.”

On the west coast, Los Angles is home to one of the world’s most talked-about hotspots, the roof bar of André Balazs’ Standard Downtown Hotel. Here you can nurse an icy margarita against the backdrop of Los Angeles’ skyscrapers. The poolside oasis flaunts a bar adorned in red and white décor and ultra-modern waterbed lounges. The hotel also projects movies against the wall of an adjacent building, delivering a memorable Hollywood-in-the-50s experience.

But when it comes to elevation, nothing quite tops The Vertigo Grill & Moon Bar. Situated atop a former helipad on the Banyan Tree Bangkok, this open-air sanctuary features a 360-degree view of Thailand’s swirling, exotic capital. It’s hard to tell which is more seductive: the millions of stars spread across the nighttime sky above you or the glittering landmarks below, including the Grand Palace and the Chao Phraya River.