These bars and lounges deliver views as spectacular as the cocktails.
When you’re traveling, it probably feels like you spend most of your day going from stop to stop—historic site, buzzy restaurant, charming shopping district, scenic park. Sometimes, though, taking the longview of a city can help you understand its soul as well as you would if you were sitting in a café chatting with locals. Tourist favorite viewing sites, like NYC’s iconic Empire State Building, require advanced planning and pricey online reservations as well as some serious wait time once you get there. But what if you could instantly be swept up to a perfect perch which not only offers spectacular sights—but a civilized way to enjoy them? Check out these five bars and lounges that offer jaw-dropping vistas and a respite from the crowds. A beautifully prepared drink, snack, or meal seals the deal.
1. The Aviary: New York
Head to the 35th floor of Manhattan’s Mandarin Oriental and you’ll find this dramatic lounge (aviarynyc.com) overlooking Central Park and much of midtown. Set within the massive Time Warner shopping complex at Columbus Circle, this is the perfect place to kick up your feet after a long day of sightseeing or bring out-of-town guests for a special treat. Not only will you enjoy the view from the curved, floor-to-ceiling wall of windows, you’ll be tickled by the playful array of drinks and small dishes on the experimental menu. The whimsical cocktails here make The Aviary as destination-worthy as the views. They typically involve smoke, dry ice, or exotic Instagram-worthy garnishes and vessels. If you've never had a cocktail poured from a plastic bag, now's your chance to try it. During daytime hours, a good bet is the $45, three-course lunch. Walk-ins are encouraged though if you want a prime seat next to the windows, you’ll want to make a reservation on took.com.
2. 71 Above: Los Angeles
Perched nearly 1000 feet atop the US Bank Tower building in downtown Los Angeles, this circular restaurant and lounge (71above.com) offers an unrivaled, panoramic view of the City of Angels. Once seated, you’ll be able to appreciate the seamless glass window panes which automatically darken for better daytime viewing and then lighten as dusk falls—and each table also comes with its own simulated compass to help you gauge your direction. The mood is old-world opulence and you can walk in any time for a well-crafted cocktail at the bar in the lounge. Stick to the classic vibe and order a Vesper, the gin, vodka, and Lillet Blanc mix that James Bond made famous. There’s also a special bar menu of small bites. If you’re after the $70 prix-fixe option, you’ll have to make reservations. The menu includes French classics like steak tartar, oysters in Champagne, and foie gras—balanced with more modern dishes like the surprisingly luxe parsnips roasted in duck fat. You can also reserve seats by the window.
3. Top of the Gate/Top of the Skate: Washington D.C.
Politics may be on everyone’s mind these days, but the recently refurbished Watergate Hotel (thewatergatehotel.com/dine-and-drink/top-of-the-gate) promises to keep things lighthearted. Inside, you’ll find a few small, cheeky gestures with a swipe at the namesake’s complex past, including drink coasters inscribed with “Well, I am not a crook,” and Mad Men-inspired uniforms for the staff. But it’s the year-round rooftop, featuring 360-degree views of D.C.’s familiar skyline and monuments, that inject an element of fun and fancy to every visit. During warmer months, you can head up to the 15th floor and perch yourself at the bar for an array of fruity, cheery cocktails like the Key-Bridge Sunset with Jamaican rum, pineapple, lime and ginger, or choose something simple from the G&T Bar. A popular food option is one of the sweet or savory pizzas, served with a wink in a delivery box. Come November, Top of the Gate becomes the Top of the Skate, offering those same views to ice skaters on the open-air rink—as well as a skate-up bar with seasonal selections like a bourbon-spiked hot cider and hot chocolate with Bailey’s and Irish whiskey. You can book a table or lounge seating for a minimum of $50 per person. Guests will be charged the full $50 even if the order totals less than that sum.
4. J Parker: Chicago
(Courtesy The J. Parker)
The 13th floor of the Hotel Lincoln (jparkerchicago.com) delivers stunning views of the Chicago skyline, Lincoln Park Zoo, Lake Michigan, and the city’s Gold Coast. The bar, named after the eponymous president’s bodyguard, is an all-weather destination with an outdoor rooftop and a glass-enclosed space to enjoy the globetrotting cocktail program featuring drinks from Mexico, Cuba and Spain—like the Capri, stirred with gin, aloe liqueur, kiwi, and lime. Quiet, cozy times can be found on the banquettes and couches, or near one of the two fireplaces. But if, for instance, you’re coming in from the beach or a day of strolling the city, take a seat at the bar or one of the high-top tables and relax with an order of the house punch—served by the bowl-- or addictive snacks like truffle fries and cheesy polenta sticks. Reservations are available for larger groups, but otherwise it's first come, first serve.
5. Top of the Mark, San Francisco
This 19th floor bar sits atop the Intercontinental Mark Hopkins (intercontinentalmarkhopkins.com/top-of-the-mark.aspx), which is perched above Nob Hill. There’s nothing here that falls short of the best of what San Francisco has to offer. Take a trip on the exclusive elevator to a throw-back, glass-walled, penthouse hotel bar. It’s a classy roost, where choosing a martini from the “100 Martini Menu” is as enjoyable as soaking in the views which include the bay, the Golden Gate Bridge, and Alcatraz. The wraparound perspective is perfect for sunset or a twinkling nightcap. Cocktails here lean classic with a contemporary twist. Tapas and small bites are served daily, touting locally sourced cheese and caviar, as well as shareable plates like Dungeness crab nachos. Check the online calendar for live music and dancing and if you want to make a brunch date with The City By the Bay, reservations on reserve.com is the way to go.