The Return Of The NYC Beautiful Outdoor Dining Experience
Dismantle the fabricated streetside Covid Caves that popped up as quickly as the virus spread. Tear down the two-by-fours, the plexiglass windows, heat lamps and fake flowers. Surely, they served their purpose, and saved many restaurateurs from total financial ruin, but the days of eating in parking spaces looks like it’s coming to an end.
New York City was one of the most affected areas of the world when it came to suffering from the coronavirus pandemic, but as NYC lived up to its reputation by weathering the storm and showing its resilience and indomitable spirit, so it championed its return to normal by reopening the experience of true outdoor dining.
One classic spot that promises beautiful outdoor dining is Tavern of the Green. Seen in such movies as Ghostbusters, Beaches, Wall Street and New York Stories, Tavern on the Green, a short walk from Columbus Circle, is that light at the end of the tunnel that we recognized as hope only a few months ago.
The outdoor space of Tavern on the Green surrounds the diners with a bucolic ambiance while the sounds of the city, throbbing just over the greenery, reminds one that yes, New York City is resilient and irrepressible. Tavern on the Green raises the bar for NYC dining, combining simple with sophisticated. A short walk to Sheep Meadow in Central park, the restaurant, which even features sheep in its logo, has been frequented over the years by celebs such as Beyoncé, Liz Taylor, Madonna, Michael Jackson and Jennifer Lawrence. The dress code is smart casual, and the choice of this classy establishment is just plain smart.
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The food and beverage selections are varied, and created with expertise. One main course to rave about is the Grilled Brook Trout. Pair it with Pinot or a cocktail such as “Hot as a Cucumber,” served by wait staff who are ebullient and informed, and you will surely feel like a New Yorker, standing triumphant after a year of turmoil.
A short hike downtown, and the traveler seeking the beauty of the new normal can enter the festive atmosphere of Cantina Rooftop. There is something transportive here as one passes through party rooms to reach the pinnacle, a rooftop lounge with vibrant Mexican décor and a pulsing, hedonistic, musical vibe. There is evidence here, as is in most establishments, that Covid still lurks in the recesses; plexiglass walls separate diners. However, that is not altogether bad. The restaurant balances the sense of protection with a unique umbrella mosaic ceiling which creates a canopy of prismatic light, which, like soft candlelight, augments the celebratory smile on any dinner guest.
Even if it does rain, I doubt anything could dampen the spirit created here. The round rooftop oasis offers a modern spin on traditional Mexican dishes thanks to Chef Saul Monteil. Start off with fresh guacamole and fancy nachos, add on a plate of Enchiladas Con Pollo, and round it out with cocktails served in a pineapple alive with sparklers.
The décor extends the Mexican metaphor with many Day of the Dead pictures and wall murals, but fear not. The romance of a beautiful outdoor space within a city of hope will erase any raindrop, any skeleton, and any lingering sadness. The future is bright at Cantina Rooftop.
Nothing reminds one of the resilience and beauty of NYC’s outdoor spaces like being high up yet spied upon by the Empire State Building. This icon of metropolis is the perfect backdrop for the misunderstood beast in all of us, climbing high above the frenetic madness for a moment of peace. Spyglass Rooftop Bar provides such a scenario, and beauty is the dominant force here, the night sky, platters of tasty morsels shared among friends, the glittering lights reflected in the mirrors of each other’s eyes.
A charcuterie board is perfect for a shared experience, for who would want to be on a rooftop alone? The Tuna Poke bursts with flavor, titillating the tongue, hard to put into words. A cocktail such as Camo-berry, tequila, chamomile syrup, blackberry puree and lime, on a rooftop in a city that never sleeps, gives a new name to the term The Great Outdoors.
On the same block in Manhattan as Spyglass, Refinery Rooftop offers another beautiful outdoor space. Atop the Refinery Hotel, a reimagination of the original building which served as a hat factory and Prohibition-era tea house, sits a rooftop lounge with great views of the Manhattan skyline. The marriage of rustic and industrial reflects the simpler days when gatherings were maskless, multitasking unnecessary, and social distance dependent upon attraction.
However, as hope floats back into the NYC nightlife, the Refinery Rooftop shines as one of the epitomes of the city itself. Guests are surrounded by tall buildings and steel girders (the roof above one of indoor/outdoor spaces), and comforted by their specialties of Grilled Hanger Steak Flatbread and Little Gem Caesar Salad.
Since no life is complete without an omakase experience, a visit to Sushi Lab Rooftop is mandatory. Despite its name, this is not a place for raw fish experimentation, unless you want to sample an amazing menu of glorious tasting selections. With a presentation that rivals the taste, their dishes stimulate many senses simultaneously. The seared salmon and the spicy tuna tartare highlight an eclectic menu. They offer Lab classics, a chef’s menu for the massive eaters, hand rolls as well as sushi and sashimi.
The outdoor space of Sushi Lab is certainly special as well. The plexiglass dividers go unnoticed as one’s eye gaze upward to a canopy of leaves creating a natural atmosphere that nearly makes one forget there was ever a 2020. The canopy also gives the illusion that one is not in NYC, not at the epicenter, not even concerned with social distance. The natural elements act as an escape and a reminder that life has a way of repairing itself.
Another fun and picturesque outdoor space is VERSA Rooftop Restaurant. One of the many rooftop experiences available in the Garment District, VERSA re-opened in June 2020, one of the many establishments that braved the challenges and thrived. This 8,000 square foot, open-air rooftop features clear views of the Empire State Building as well as Hudson Yards.
VERSA, which is operated by the respected Backal Hospitality Group, is located on the fifth floor of the Renaissance New York Midtown Hotel, (ironically, renaissance means rebirth), exhibits a dignified atmosphere with natural elements, and offers a robust menu with specialties such as Shishitos with Sea Salt, Pastrami Sliders with Buttered Brioche, and Connecticut Style Lobster Roll.
Finally, one might take in the beauty of the near normal sixteen storeys high in Downtown NYC. Loopy Doopy Rooftop Bar atop the Conrad Downtown Hotel, offers a great view of The Statue of Liberty and New York Harbor, the spot where so many people soldiered through their own tumultuous journey seeking simple normality and even an opportunity for success. For the traveler of 2021, just seeking a return to their familiar without prefabricated sanitization structures which will forever remind us of the pandemic, the fresh air and iconic scenery is half the remedy.
The great drink and food, along with the playful atmosphere of Loopy Doopy Rooftop Bar provides the rest. Besides signature cocktails, the bar offers their unique spin on a spiked popsicle called Mom & Icepops Boozy Pop in flavors such as Raspberry Moscow Mule and Lemon Jasmin-Gin served in a choice of prosecco or rosecco on tap or Moët & Chandon Ice Impérial. Their culinary offerings include gourmet flavored kettle corn popcorn, hummus and sumac pita chips, rotisserie chicken salad sliders, and a four citrus fluke ceviche.
Lastly, if enjoying the light of the future means washing away the darkness of the past, then a beautiful outdoor space must include a rooftop pool. One hotel that provides the bar, lounge and pool is the Gansevoort Hotel in the Meatpacking District of Manhattan.
Surrounded by plush seating and chic neon art, the heated rooftop pool is open to guests until 9pm, offering poolside bites like truffle fries, salads and craft cocktails for those who want to lounge all day.
The light at the end of the tunnel of which so many people have been speaking and writing is growing brighter by the day. The rollercoaster of the pandemic does require travelers to buckle up when necessary, but New York City continues to lead the way, showing that beautiful experiences still and will always exist after the plexiglass walls and the two-by-fours have all been repurposed.