In 1890, New Yorker and composer Rudolph Aronson built a beautiful garden on the roof of the Casino Theatre. He hoped to emulate the urban gardens he’d fallen for while travelling in Europe and provide open air spaces for socialising and performance. Being that prohibition was still decades away it was roughly no minutes before patrons decided the whole thing would be better with cocktails and the rooftop bar was born.
Importing this innovation to London means working around our relative lack of flat roof space and occasionally hostile weather. However, the last few years have seen us slotting rooftop bars in everywhere we can. Just as well, because there’s no better way to reacquaint yourself with London after lockdown than knocking down a few drinks and taking in that skyline. These are all available to book now for social distancing style fun.
Dalston Roof Park – Dalston
This astro-turfed rooftop above Kingsland High Street sprung straight back to life on the 4th of July and is now doing seven days a week, weather permitting. All the cocktails and craft beer that are legally required at bars in the capital in 2020 are present and correct but the real star here is the wine. A list curated by local heroes Newcomer Wines covers a range of natural and low-intervention styles. So, fans of that sort of delicious cloudy, pink, Austrian stuff that your parents would hate will find lots to enjoy. The whole venue is run by local charity Bootstrap who have provided support to local businesses and charities since the 1970s, a cause worth supporting now more than ever.
Netil360 – Hackney
A little slice of rooftop garden that’s right by London Fields, Broadway Market, and all that other good Hackney stuff. 360 launched in 2014 as a member’s only venue, but shortly after opened to the general public. Ever since, they’ve been serving the people of East London with cocktails and residencies from the great-and-good of the capitol’s street food. Right now, they’re offering local beers, dim sum, and good views – what more could you want? The usual walk-ins only policy has been replaced with a ticket system to avoid overcrowding so plan well ahead and book your spaces soon, it’s going to sell out.
Jin Bo Law – City
This upmarket affair on the 14th floor of Dorset City hotel is perfect if you want to dress up and escape into long-abandoned central London. This is deep city so you’ll be surrounded by sky scrapers and close enough to spit cocktail olives at the Gherkin. The cocktail list goes heavy on sweetness and vodka – about right for this postcode – but everything is nicely presented and professionally done. The lighting, décor, and that big pineapple behind the bar are like a living Instagram story.
Bussey Building – Peckham
The building that began life as a Victorian cricket bat factory off Peckham Rye is now home to galleries, studio space, hot desks, venues, and a rooftop covered with plants where you can get a drink. The whole Industrial Park on which the Bussey Building sits has seen plenty of love and investment since narrowly swerving demolition in 2007 and this rooftop is looking particularly smart these days. You get a great view of the city across the river, a solidly good pizza, and a nice bit of pergola in case the weather starts to threaten proceedings.
Like all the venues on the list this one is operating bookings only, but if you’re in the area and can’t get in here you might also consider Forza Wine, just across the way at 133 Rye Lane. This spinoff of the Copeland Park original Italian joint Forza Win is a great place to stop for a Negroni, some antipasti, and a peruse of the concise and on-point wine list.
Skylight – Tobacco Dock
Another bar perched on top of a bit of repurposed warehousing, because in London that’s how we like to do it. In the pre-pandemic world this was without a doubt the best shout in town for anyone hoping to play a round of open-air petank in the Wapping area. The games may be on hold for now but you can still book a place for table service and drink spritzes like you’re making up for lost time. The food offering will be limited initially but there’s poke bowls if you’re into that sort of thing and Philly cheesesteaks if you’re not.
Radio Rooftop – The Strand
From this vantage you’ll have Covent Garden on one side and Somerset House on the other, a good spot to perch by the river and take it all in. There’s a small plates menu and cocktails as well as a few of those new CBD infused drinks that will either be everywhere or sunk without trace in six months. Unlike the bar with the natural wine, your parents will like this place so you can buy them a couple between glasses of Tattinger to see if they have any effect. Even if you don’t, you’ll probably have fun seeing the West End from above and realising how much you’ve missed it. It’s a place that really does have its angles.
The original Peckham rooftop bar Frank’s Cafe, which opened on top of a carpark in 2009 has since become a South London institution, beckoning even ardent north-london-ists to make the long trip down and check it out. At time of writing it’s still closed but they’re sure to announce plans soon. The Culpeper, a just plain lovely pub with rooms on Commercial Street, has a rooftop garden where they grow produce for the kitchen downstairs and you drink English wine. Again, closed for now but you can buy a voucher for when it opens – hopefully soon – and support the staff until then.