A daily bulletin of news & opinion

18 May 2011

The opening of Manhattan’s many rooftops is one of the city’s most distinct harbingers of summer. After months of navigating pavements flanked by piles of snow or battling harsh winds straight off the Hudson river, New Yorkers can escape the busy, stifling summer streets for a little bit of breeze on one of the city’s roof spaces.

With over 1.5 million people living on an island only 23 sq miles in area, it’s no surprise that both Manhattan’s residents and businesses have capitalised on converting roof space into bars, restaurants and even cinemas.

Last week, the Standard Hotel’s 18th-floor roof terrace opened for its second season. Decked out in AstroTurf, scattered with an assortment of furniture and with its very own bar, the roof has the feeling of a garden party, albeit with panoramic views down the Hudson.

It was also the weekend that heralded the start of the annual calendar for Rooftop Films, a unique New York film festival that has been screening movies atop city buildings for the last 14 years. “New York is such a packed environment, rooftops have always been a natural refuge,” says founder Mark Elijah Rosenberg. “They’re a place where people go to escape the city and get a new perspective on it. The films we show are new independent films that you won’t see anywhere else. They also provide a new perspective, so it’s a natural fit.”

One of the most anticipated roofs to open is that at 200 5th Avenue, home to Eataly, Mario Batali’s cathedral to Italian food and drink. Originally intended to be operational last autumn, the 750 sq m space will be home to a 300-seat restaurant and a brewery for three craft beer companies — two Italian and one American. Positioned adjacent to the leafy Madison Square Park, and with views on to both the Flatiron and Empire State Building, the beer garden’s retractable roof will serve beer and Italian food year round.

In a city dominated by apartment living, roof terraces replace gardens, and are a precious commodity. “Each sq m of outdoor space is worth roughly 50 per cent of that inside, and apartments with rooftops are hard to come by,” says Katherine Stroud of property firm Prudential Douglas Elliman. While many people have access to their roofs, few are designated for development. In a city as densely built up as Manhattan, natural light has a price upon it. Air rights are owned by buildings, meaning that adding or altering a roof requires piles of paperwork.

“It’s not easy to get permission for our rooftop film screenings,” explains Rosenberg. “I wouldn’t recommend people try this at home. But if you do want to set up your own screenings, let us know, we’ll help you out.”


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