Hotel ballrooms and convention center halls certainly have their place and their purpose, but facilitating the capture of Instagram-ready moments is not necessarily one of them. A few choice venues, on the other hand, offer both space enough for a networking session and reason enough on their own to focus the smartphone outward.
“We like to think of ourselves as nontraditional advisors and consultants, so a traditional meeting space does not match the culture we foster with our clients, nor does it match our office culture,” says Dominic Piccirillo, principal with New York insurance broker The Cody Group. Given that, when planning a thank-you event for a group of about 50 clients, mostly entrepreneurs and salespeople, Piccirillo wanted to try something that would really wow them.
“By setting up the event in a relaxed, yet upscale and sophisticated setting, we were able to facilitate meaningful introductions.”
— Dominic Piccirillo
Since many of his clients work in Midtown Manhattan, he reached out to several local hotels with rooftops and narrowed his choices down to three, ultimately deciding on the 3,000-sf Upstairs at The Kimberly. There’s certainly no dearth of inviting rooftop venues to choose from in New York City, and Piccirillo credits one “difference maker” for his final decision: the venue’s director of sales and events. “She was incredibly helpful and understood exactly what we were trying to achieve with our event. She worked within our budget to deliver exactly what we wanted. We felt totally comfortable placing our event in her hands and will be doing so again in the near future,” he says.
The 30th-floor space’s retractable glass ceilings and walls mean the wraparound views of Midtown Manhattan are available in all weather, and the massive rooftop space, overhung with bulbs, offers a mix of décors, with mahogany-colored, plush club chairs and dark rattan side tables as well as lighter, more casual lounge chairs; as such, attendees could potentially utilize at least three different themed sections on different parts of the roof. And the food and drink isn’t an afterthought; the space has its own full bar complete with specialty cocktails including The Chrysler — honey, cognac, and fresh lemon and lime topped with champagne — as well as chef-prepared small plates such as grilled lamb lollipops, truffled mac and cheese and spiced duck cigars with a side of pomegranate sauce.
“By setting up the event in a relaxed, yet upscale and sophisticated setting, we were able to facilitate meaningful introductions that allowed people the potential of creating future business dealings. In doing so, we also were able to add value to our existing relationships,” says Piccirillo, who further describes the event as a “huge success.” “The atmosphere was fun and inviting for our guests, and they were genuinely excited to be there. Everyone loved the venue and couldn’t stop talking about the views and the great service. Our clients were very impressed by the sophisticated crowd and the versatility of the space.”
The Roof at Park South, which reopens in April after a makeover, accommodates 120 attendees for private events and offers photo-worthy views of the Chrysler Building. The drink menu is front and center at this venue, with offerings that include Duke’s Martini: frozen Plymouth gin (proprietary to Plymouth, England, and the base for the “pink gin” cocktail) served with caviar; Swamp Water: cachaca (the base for the Brazilian cocktail, caipirinha), chartreuse, pineapple and lime; growlers, aka, 64 ounces of beer; and “bar residencies and pop-ups” that will feature a cast of temporary mixologists to be determined by the Roof’s beverage director. The Park South Hotel also features a private dining room that accommodates up to 40 attendees.
Not to be outdone by the preponderance of Manhattan rooftops, Williamsburg, Brooklyn, has its own recently opened rooftop scene in the making in the form of the 64-room McCarren Hotel & Pool. Views from the rooftop encompass McCarren Park as well as the Manhattan panorama, and group packages are available.
“It’s not a bar; it’s an event space,” Kyle Gilroy, executive director, Real Estate Finance for CIBC World Markets, says of the 1,400-sf penthouse at The Kitano New York. He chose the spot for his annual summer get-together for about 45 people last June because it offered exactly what he envisioned for the group: something upscale and private but casual, a change from the typical business dinner.
The 149-room boutique hotel on Park Avenue features a giant Botero sculpture in the lobby, among other artworks, and offers amenities including bathroom towel warmers and complimentary Japanese green tea. It also offers, seemingly counterintuitively for a space that trades in tranquility, a rooftop barbecue that Gilroy was quick to seize upon. “For a fairly similar price point, we could have had a little section of a bar with a little outdoor section with a velvet rope,” he says. Instead, “our space was private, not a corner of a room; it was all us, and that changed the vibe. We weren’t sharing servers or bartenders. Everyone who was there was there to cater to our event, and it felt that way. It was better than having a wristband or a little area. We did that last year, and it felt cheaper.”
Gilroy chose how the tables would be laid out, had signs placed in the lobby and decided which wines and beers to provide; the hotel did the rest. On one of the penthouse’s two terraces was the chef laboring over a grill; on the other, a buffet table for the grilled hot dogs, hamburgers, veggie burgers, chicken sausages, French fries, coleslaw, salad, cookies and brownies, and a few beers and wines. One of the terraces had a view of the sunset, and from the rooftop guests could see the Empire State Building, Chrysler Building and MetLife Building.
“It was our answer to a barbecue in the suburbs, just on a roof on Park Avenue,” Gilroy says. “Everyone had a couple of drinks and relaxed, and they were not on top of each other; there was plenty of room to walk either inside or onto the other private balcony to talk.” When it started to drizzle later in the evening, the hotel staff moved the bar to the inside area. And Gilroy’s attendees certainly weren’t put off by a little rain: the group had such a good time that he ultimately extended the evening an extra half hour beyond the time he’d contracted for.
“A casual event in a really nice space is a nice mix; it really allowed people to relax and have a good time,” he says, noting that he would definitely have another event there. The inside area has floor-to-ceiling windows that allow attendees to experience the majesty of the New York skyline even during the colder months.
Both Bar 54 at Hyatt Times Square and 230 Fifth Rooftop Lounge have futuristic, winter-themed, enclosed rooftop “igloos” — The Bubbles, as they’re called at Bar 54 — that let attendees enjoy the view of the outdoors without being full frontal in it. 230 Fifth has both an indoor penthouse and an outdoor roofdeck; Bar 54 is on the 54th floor with views of the Hudson River, Central Park and Times Square, and it’s furnished with, appropriately enough, white Skruvsta chairs and white lambskin blankets.
The 49-room Rosewood Washington, DC (formerly the Capella) in Georgetown recently changed hands but still features a 2,775-sf space that can hold about 100 attendees and includes the Rooftop Bar and Lounge as well as an infinity pool with a built-in fireplace. Both are now open only to hotel guests and offer what by many accounts are “stunning” views of the Potomac River, Kennedy Center and Washington Monument. Pascal Forotti, the hotel’s managing director, reportedly told the Washington Business Journal last spring that the hotel would consider ways to use the rooftop for more private events. In any case, the change-up at the luxury hotel might offer planners the opportunity for some creative negotiating.
Hanson Ansary, president and CEO of AlliedPRA Chicago, is bullish on the city’s burgeoning hotel scene: he says he wouldn’t hesitate to plan an event at any one of half a dozen hotel rooftops. In Chicago, rooftop season is June to the end of September. “Because Chicago has such a short summer, we want to do something really spectacular that will leave a lasting impression in the minds of the participants,” he says. One event he planned for June 2015 was an incentive for a group of 45 couples from a New York-headquartered national insurance company. The group stayed at the United States’ first Virgin Hotel, a former office building housed in what is now an historic landmark building, where they also attended an event at Cerise, the hotel’s 26th-floor rooftop space. “There’s a view of the Chicago River, Trump Tower and also a view of the El, so it’s nice for people who are all out-of-towners to get a feel for the city,” he says.
Later, in July 2015, he planned a larger cocktail reception — a 120-person stakeholders meeting — for a different New York-based insurer at the Loews Hotel’s Streeterville Social — on the 35th floor with a view of the city skyline and of Lake Michigan. “Having been in meetings all day, they wanted an airy space before they headed to dinner,” he says. A three-piece orchestra Ansary hired was playing in the background as the sun began its descent. “In general, the reaction was very positive and encouraging,” he says. But of course, he adds, “wow, this is so nice” tends to be the standard reaction for a get-together on any rooftop.
At both venues, the hotel provided catering with a premium bar as well as an alternate indoor possibility in case of inclement weather, while Ansary’s team provided the décor, which was minimal: highboy tables with votives. “The venue itself was the centerpiece,” he says. For planners considering a rooftop venture, Ansary suggests: “Make sure that the hotel provides you with a complete list of do’s and don’ts on a rooftop; trash disposal etc.,” noting there are liabilities that can be different from the norm.
At the 7,000-sf Roof on The Wit, on the 27th floor of the hotel, attendees can see the Chicago skyline both with the naked eye and with the rooftop telescope as they munch on, for example, a chilled seafood tower of lobster, oysters, shrimp and king crab; or a specialty flatbread with caramelized cauliflower, Merguez sausage, curried fennel, goat cheese and pickled mustard seed, for starters — definitely a food-spotting, Instagram moment to savor! I&FMM