Operators in the wintriest of locales are maximizing their rooftop bars with creative consumer draws like igloos, skating rinks and curling sheets. And they’re boosting sales with cold-weather menus of hot cocktails and indulgent shareable dishes like fondue.
Just be sure to invest in some insulating tape for the outdoor pipes while getting ready for the snowy season, says Dave Delaplaine of Roofers Union, a three-level bar in Washington, D.C.
“Our first two winters, we had a ton of trouble with pipes bursting in cold weather and it definitely impacted our rooftop operations,” he says. “We had pipes bursting four or five times each winter. This [year], after we wrapped our pipes with heat tape, we didn’t have to deal with a single pipe burst. It was a huge game-changer—and money-saver.”
With that bit of housekeeping out of the way, here’s a look at some enterprising rooftop makeovers that are drawing customers during otherwise slow months.
1. Skating atop Watergate
The infamous Watergate Hotel in Washington, D.C., remade its Top of the Gate bar into Top of the Skate, a rooftop skating rink that opened last month. The 1,400-square-foot rink, which takes up about a third of the roof area, is made of plastic that’s sprayed with solvent to make it slick. The rink is hosting group and individual lessons, as well as skate rental. Watergate operators are finding customers often go skating before dinner at the downstairs restaurant, unlike summer guests who linger at the bar for several hours, a hotel spokeswoman says, also noting that such an endeavor requires additional operational costs like skate sharpening, increased electricity and cold-weather uniforms for employees.
2. Crafting a cozy winter pop-up
In the past, the rooftop bar at the Viceroy Central Park hotel was decorated with a few strings of lights for the holidays. This year, though, the New York City concept launched Winter Room at The Roof, a seasonally themed, ski lodge-esque pop-up with a clear vinyl-enclosed terrace, ceramic heaters, willow twigs, holiday lights, blankets and a menu of fondue and hot toddies. “Comparing last year to this year, we’re already seeing a bit of a bump,” says Scott Gerber, CEO of Gerber Group, which runs the concept. “It’s not a huge investment and business has been great.”
3. Drawing customers with a holiday market
The Asbury Festhalle & Biergarten in Asbury Park, N.J., adds a holiday craft market to its rooftop during winter weekends, along with a menu of warm drinks for shoppers. The rooftop has heated reservation-only igloos for groups of eight and up, with shareable dishes and beer by the pitcher.
4. Rooftop curling rink, sans ice
Chicago’s Gwen Hotel introduced an 8-by-32-foot curling rink on its terrace bar earlier this month. When researching the idea, the operators opted for an iceless rink so they weren’t beholden to sudden weather warm-ups. It’s $25 per person for 30 minutes of curling, which includes a $16 winter cocktail. “The curling rink allows The Gwen to reach a larger share of the local audience, who are more accustomed to the Chicago winter and are looking for fun things to do,” says Marcus Cornelious, the hotel’s director of sales and marketing. Sales at the hotel’s bar Upstairs at The Gwen have more than doubled from this time last year, he says.
5. Amping it up with choreographed lights
The 230 Fifth Rooftop Bar in New York City added 75,000 holiday lights to its space, which are programmed to put on a choreographed display several times each night. The bar also includes 17 transparent, insulated igloos outfitted with fireplaces that seat up to 12 guests each.