High above Tampa Bay's bustling rumble of diners and pedestrians is another world, where the mundane happy hour is elevated – literally.
Rooftop bars offer a bit of escapism, transforming a simple drink with friends into an experience all its own.
“Anything looks better on a rooftop” said Monica Varner, president of Elan Event Studio, a full service event planning and marketing firm serving southwest Florida. “A rooftop bar just feels like you’re somewhere else, you feel like you’re on vacation.”
For the past four years, Varner’s company has produced the highly anticipated Rooftop Eve Party, which takes place on the rooftop of a South Tampa parking garage. The garage’s rooftop is transformed into a decadent New Year’s Eve party with tents, private cabanas and a dozen bar stations. And then there’s the view – a panoramic of Tampa by night. The party has sold out two years in a row.
“I think people like to see things and watch things,” Varner said. “And on a rooftop bar you can see everything that’s going on in a city.”
Like cocktails, rooftop bars come in all flavors. From those that cater to stiletto-heeled martini sippers to others that attract hipsters who fancy craft beers, there’s a rooftop bar for everyone.
The View: Located in Seminole Heights, this restaurant has a secret. A staircase tucked off to the side of the building leads to a speak-easy style rooftop patio. The patio has a homey feel to it with dim lighting and hard wood flooring. The view of historic N. Florida Avenue locations like Cappy’s Pizza and Mauricio Faedo’s 24-hour Cuban bakery add an urban flavor to the scene. A mixture of foodies, hipsters and buttoned up types frequent The Refinery’s rooftop patio. The restaurant is known for its seasonally superb menu; Chef Greg Baker has been nominated for a James Beard Foundation award twice. And the Refinery’s rooftop patio is the perfect atmosphere to enjoy Baker’s brilliance along with a wide array of craft beers and nuanced wines.
What to order: The beer selection is off the charts. For a perfect combination of beer, citrus and bubbles go for the Stiegl Grapefruit Radler.
The Scene: Be ‘Scene’
The View: This downtown rooftop bar heats up after sunset and straight out sizzles around 11 p.m. when Tampa’s young professionals converge to sip handcrafted cocktails and enjoy views of downtown Tampa. Like the inside of Fly, the rooftop bar is no-frills, flanked in washed wood and metal giving it an industrial chic vibe. Some say the difference between a bartender and a mixologist is one makes drinks, while the other creates drinks. The bar staff at the Fly Bar are of the latter. Tick off your favorite liquor and ingredients and prepare to be satisfied as one of Fly’s mixologists creates a drink that makes any hangover you may have the next day worth it. A funky up-tempo music mix makes the rooftop bar a party scene on the weekends.
What to order: Feeling spicy? Go for The Gallagher, a mixture of Hendricks Gin, fresh watermelon, Thai chili and lime.
The Scene: Girls Night Out
The View: Located above The Birchwood on posh Beach Drive, The Canopy is an oasis for those looking to soak in a special crafted cocktail and lounge in style. Since it opened this summer The Canopy rooftop bar has quickly built its acclaim as a St. Pete destination. Lined with private cabanas, The Canopy offers as much privacy or visibility as one would need. But let’s face it, it’s all about being seen here, making it a perfect place for girl’s night out. An added bonus is The Canopy has comfy couches facing modern electric fire pits making it an acceptable outside excursion well into the cooler months. The Canopy provides expansive views, including the soon-to-be-demolished Pier and St. Petersburg Yacht Club.
What to order: While the Canopy offers an extensive list of signature cocktails, the Dirty Martini with goat cheese stuffed olives takes the familiar to new heights.
The Scene: Family Time Sunset
The View: This rooftop bar is attached to the Historic Hurricane Seafood Restaurant and has been drawing droves since 1977 when the restaurant first opened at Pass-a-Grille Beach. The restaurant is classic gulf coast Florida with a menu of enough seafood dishes to keep you full through next hurricane season. The rooftop bar’s atmosphere is much of the same with a daily band that plays reggae and beach themed music. The rooftop piece de resistance is the sunset view. So, it only makes sense that they pass out brochures listing sunset times for each day of the week along with drink and food specials. Happy hour is Monday through Friday 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. The closer it gets to sunset, the more packed the bar gets, so plan accordingly.
What to order: Keep it simple. The Traditional Mojito is made with Cruzan rum and yes, the mint is fresh.
The Scene: Bros Beach Day
The View: The Lookout Bar at Hooter’s is one of the newest additions to the Clearwater Beach bar scene, where the restaurant opened last year. The Lookout Bar is located a floor above the Hooter’s restaurant. Down below folks enjoy Hooter’s staples like wings and beer. But the Lookout Bar offers an upscale experience. Waitresses have replaced the skimpy orange shorts with black ones. And along with wings, diners can enjoy a Lookout Bar exclusive menu including Mahi sliders and sea scallops. Cushy couches, high top tables and palms give the rooftop bar an upscale vibe.
What to order: When in Rome… The bar’s signature Lookout Knockout combines rum, melon liqueur and pineapple.