Native New Yorker Carole King once sang about escaping to the rooftops for solitude, but the heights of the city have come a long way since then.
No longer just places to stick water towers and pigeon coops, the city's highest places are now home to popular restaurants and bars where patrons can revel in magnificent vistas. Rooftops were always a respite from the heat on summer evenings, but now they're air-conditioned sanctuaries that harbor fine art, lavish flora and sleek swimming pools. Borrowing from Japanese urban rooftop designs, there are whole elevated parks and organic gardens on high - even an ice-skating rink. Here are some of the best options for rooftop adventures in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens.
If you're enjoying your rooftop for the view, you might as well take it all in. The View (1535 Broadway, 212-704-8900, theviewny.com) is a slowly revolving restaurant and lounge topping out at 48 stories in Times Square's Marriott Marquis. Making a complete revolution every hour, The View has vistas of everything from the Hudson River and New Jersey to the Empire State Building - and back again. Confirm for yourself that "the Bronx is up, and the Battery's down" while munching on the delectable dishes of chef de cuisine Ron Camillo. After 8 p.m., there's an $8 cover charge for those not staying at the hotel.
If you're looking for liquor that's literally "top-shelf," check out the Gramercy Park Hotel's Private Roof Club & Garden (2 Lexington Ave., 212-920-3300, gramercyparkhotel.com). Despite the name, this rooftop bar 16 stories up is open to the public. With a retractable roof, the lush patio can be enjoyed any time, along with an indoor drawing room with artist Julian Schnabel's conglomeration of light bulbs evoking the notion of a chandelier. A salon modeled after London's private gentlemen's clubs rounds out the mise-en-scène. The bar's cuisine and cocktails have never been better, refreshingly reinterpreted this spring by executive chef Nick Anderer of Maialino. Try the prosciutto and arugula flatbread with fig and goat cheese for a crunchy, sweet snack that goes down smoothly with a berry Bellini of muddled berries, crème de cassis and Prosecco that puts the "up" in upscale.
For views of stunning skylines and stylish patrons (such as Sean "Diddy" Combs), try AVA Lounge (210 W. 55th St., 212-956-7020, avaloungenyc.com) in the penthouse of the DREAM Hotel. Come before sunset to snag a table on the rooftop deck to watch the sun sink and the twinkling lights of Broadway take over in inky Manhattan skies. Decorated in sleek lines of aquamarine and white in the main room, and white billowing curtains and fiery red birds of paradise in the crystal room, AVA has the sexy allure of its namesake, Ava Gardner. Throughout the summer, there will be barbecuing on the deck, plus frozen cocktails all day on weekends and during weekday Happy Hours.
For a bit of interactive fun with art while sipping cocktails on a roof, try visiting the Metropolitan Museum of Art Roof Garden (1000 Fifth Ave., 212-535-7710, metmuseum .org), currently featuring the whimsical bamboo sculpture of twin brothers Doug and Mike Starn. "Big Bambú: You Can't, You Don't, and You Won't Stop" is a work in progress and will measure 100 feet by 50 feet, and tower 50 feet high when it's completed this fall. You can stroll through the spiky structure, which is tied together with nylon rope, but only on a guided tour included in the museum's admission price ($20), so be sure to check in at the Big Bambú Registration Desk at the 81st Street ground-level entrance. The Roof Garden Café serves food and beverages, and it is open every day except Mondays, while martinis are served from 5:30 to 8p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.
Films in the firmament
During the stifling summer of 1997, filmmaker Mark Elijah Rosenberg decided to gather people for a screening of new short films on the rooftop of his tenement building in the East Village. Hundreds showed up to watch the films projected onto a white sheet with a 16mm projector. Now more technologically advanced, with multiple outdoor venues, Rooftop Films (718-417-7362, rooftopfilms.com) is one of the best-attended film festivals in the city and has gained international recognition. This summer, it will screen 150 shorts and more than 20 independent films - from documentaries to fiction, drama, comedy animation and more. Rooftop venues in Manhattan include El Museo del Barrio at 1230 Fifth Ave. and the Open Road Rooftop at 350 Grand St.; in Brooklyn, they include Brooklyn Technical High School at 29 Fort Greene Place and the Old American Can Factory at 232 Third St. in Park Slope.
Sports in the heights
Riverbank State Park (679 Riverside Dr., 212-694-3600, nysparks.state.ny.us/parks /93/details.aspx), modeled after Japanese urban rooftop designs, is billed as the only soaring park of its kind in the Western Hemisphere. Situated in Manhattan's Hamilton Heights neighborhood, the park sits 69 feet above the Hudson River on the rooftop of a sewage treatment plant, with striking views of New Jersey's Palisade Mountains and the George Washington Bridge. Within its 28 acres, the park has an Olympic-size pool, an 800-seat theater, a 2,500-seat stadium complex with fitness room, a covered rink for roller skating in summer and ice skating in winter, and even a restaurant. There are facilities for an array of sports. This summer, the park is offering free jazz concerts (Jammin' on the Hudson) and free plays (Uptown Theatre festival), along with events for children and seniors.
Glide up on high
With the closure of the original Sky Rink on Manhattan's West Side in the 1990s, the City Ice Pavilion in Queens now has the distinction of being the city's only rooftop ice skating rink. Not quite a year old, City Ice Pavilion's "NHL-size" rink and world-class skating facility, covered with an "air dome," sits atop a gigantic Sleepy's Mattress store in Long Island City. The facility offers public skating, ice hockey, figure skating, skating lessons, skating parties and a summer camp. The rink is open for public skating seven days a week this summer, and fees range from $5 to $8 a day plus $5 for skate rental (47-32 32nd Place, 718-505-6230, cityicepavilion.com).
Soak in the sky
Not all of Manhattan's rooftop pools are open to the public, and when they are, not everyone feels comfortable stripping to their skivvies while being watched by the terminally glamorous with their pipe-cleaner physiques. For the more modest among us, the heated penthouse pool at Le Parker Meridien New York Hotel is a welcome exception. For $100 a day each (children ages 2 to 16 pay $75 a day), nonguests can enjoy this 40-foot-long, three-lane indoor pool that offers a stunning Central Park view through surrounding glass walls. Open 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. weekdays and 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. weekends, the pool has an adjacent three-level sundeck and offers poolside food and drink service. The price of the day pass includes use of the hotel's fitness facility and access to classes such as yoga, Pilates, water aerobics, kickboxing, Latin dance and spinning (119W. 56th St., 212-245-5000, parkermeridien.com).
Crops at the top
Take in the Manhattan skyline from a sprawling 6,000- square-foot organic vegetable farm in Brooklyn - planted on top of a gigantic warehouse. The first community-supported agriculture (CSA) farm in the country based on a rooftop, the Eagle Street Rooftop Farm (44 Eagle St., Greenpoint; rooftopfarms.org) is open to the public on Sundays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. for a farmers' market where you can buy fresh mustard greens, lettuce, radishes, kale, peas, herbs and more. Also on Sundays, you can exercise your green thumb by volunteering at the farm - but be sure to take a break for the free 2 p.m. lecture series on such topics as urban organic gardening.