Roof top bars are de rigeur as prime tourist attractions in Asia’s key destinations. Rebecca Lo discovers more about life at the top.

Having the world at your feet can be a literal statement when it comes to roof top bars. In many Asian cities, the roof is where mechanical and electrical equipment are hidden. Yet an increasing number of savvy owners and operators are capping their buildings with signature venues to allow a bird’s eye view over twinkling night lights. In southern China and southeast Asia, where favourable climes allow for nearly year round usage of open air spaces, roof bars have become destinations in their own right, attracting both locals and visitors to enjoy the city spread out before them. Roof bars can be smart investments that provide a steady stream of revenue as they ensure that the venue is a must see in guidebooks and top ten lists.

Recipe for Success

“A roof bar may not necessarily be about the views,” argues architect J Lee Rofkind, founder and principal of Buz Design with studios in Hong Kong and Bangkok. “If it is lively, has great music, a good vibe and good food, people will want to be there. A view will attract tourists and visitors; if I have friends or family from out of town, I’ll take them to a roof bar for a drink and then we will move on somewhere else for dinner. If the kitchen is on another floor, dishes may not be as hot as they should when it arrives at a roof bar table.”

CRU Champagne Bar designed by HBA and Moon Bar designed by Architrave Design Planning are roof bars where the panoramic view of Bangkok takes precedence over every other aspect of the bar’s design. Perched on the 59th floor of Centara Grand & Bangkok Convention Centre at CentralWorld, CRU features a central circular bar surrounded by stools on a platform, with standing height tables scattered around it. Moon Bar sits at the highest point of a multi level roof on the 61st floor of Banyan Tree Bangkok, and consists of a square bar surrounded by low tables and chairs oriented towards the city’s skyline. For these types of open air building crowns, safety and comfort are critical aspects to the bar’s success. “A sense of enclosure should be taken into consideration,” notes Rofkind. “Sirocco at State Tower in Bangkok has a clear glass balustrade that is lower than the code requires in Hong Kong and may induce vertigo in some guests. The balustrade should be safe, not too lightweight and not too low. Perhaps it can be solid at the bottom and clear the top to allow for unobstructed views while seated.”

Stairway to Heaven

Stairs leading up to a roof bar is another factor that should be considered with care. As some roof bars have strict dress code policies, evening wear and accompanying high heels can make an outdoor staircase challenging to navigate. “A staircase is always more gracious and feels safer to use if the treads are wide and the steps are lower,” notes Rofkind. “Yet a more narrow staircase with shallow treads can be navigated quicker and take up less real estate. When installing wooden decks, be mindful that stiletto heels can easily snag within the gaps between planks.”

When the view is less than spectacular, landscaping helps to create visual interest as well as provide soft barriers for semi private outdoor spaces. Buz Design was tasked to design an outdoor cocktail area on the terrace beside Mandarin Oriental Singapore’s Italian restaurant Dolce Vita in 2013. “There was a waterfall amongst layers of landscaping that actually blocked off views,” recalls Rofkind. “We opened that up and created outdoor seating to engaged guests with their surroundings. The new design ended up increasing the hotel’s revenue with this separate poolside function space.”

Inside Out

Ozone
Ozone

Inclement weather makes roof bars with indoor areas, such as Ozone at The Ritz-Carlton, Hong Kong designed by Wonderwall, Smoke and Mirrors designed by Asylum, and 1967 designed by Glamorous, practical venues for sudden storms. Ozone, dubbed the highest bar in the world at 118 storeys, offers a series of indoor spaces to complement its outdoor sheltered terraces. Smoke and Mirrors on the sixth floor of National Gallery Singapore offers a view to Marina Bay Sands and the Singapore Straits beyond with an outdoor wooden deck and a curving monolithic wood bar. To accommodate Tokyo’s four distinct seasons, the outdoor terrace at 1967 in Roppongi Hills can be covered with retractable awnings, and the generous indoor spaces easily allow guests to duck inside as needed. “The view from Ozone is amazing,” says Rofkind. “However, the building’s height and structure makes it feel much more enclosed. Ideally, roof bars should have a plan B—a back up space for sudden storms or showers. Non slip tiles on stairs and flooring help to quickly and safely facilitate guests off a roof if the weather turns.”

Rofkind feels that one of the most important aspects of a good roof bar’s design is its lighting. Low level or floor lighting is best for navigating guests around a space without distracting from the views. Table top lamps add to the overall atmosphere, and torches may be appropriate as floor lamps in a more resort type venue. Seating, too, should accommodate different users such as singles who may want a quick drink, couples seeking romantic intimacy, colleagues hanging out after work, and sightseeing visitors attracted by the vistas. “Seating should be comfortable and a good mix of bar or counter height chairs as well as sofas and soft seating. There should be some bar tables or counters for people to stand and mingle while enjoying their drink. Music is also important; it should be curated through a DJ or a venue appropriate playlist. Live music can sometimes get lost in the crowd, and bands may not be the best idea for a roof bar.”

Rofkind recommends incorporating a loosely dedicated service corridor to allow wait staff to easily reach guests, and seating areas where guests can mingle and talk freely without interruption. “Ideally, don’t cross guest traffic with staff traffic,” she notes. “Think of designing a roof bar like designing a hotel, with efficient back of house service access so that customers stay happy.”