Having an alcoholic beverage while looking out over a scenic view makes life complete. Or, at least for that moment, I feel like I am on top of the world. There’s something magical about drinking at altitude. Maybe it’s that feeling of having arrived. Whenever my companions and I are clinking glasses above those scuttling bodies down below, I feel important and so very special.
There are a lot of rooftop bars in the world. Most of the best-known, sky-high saloons can be found in the world’s largest cities. Paris, Hong Kong, Tokyo, New York, Rio, Shanghai. The views from these aeries sport fantastic vistas of amazing urban areas. At night, the lights are a delightful sight. But, let’s face it. You are basically looking at buildings, from another building, in a sea of buildings. Even so, if you are in any of the above places, I feel certain whatever toast you are making is elevated by the fact that you can look out over the very streets which led you there as well as all the scurrying people below who are not sipping a Cosmopolitan at such a snooty height.
Before I moved to Asheville, the only rooftop bar I had ever visited was at the Tremont House in Galveston, Texas. It’s a hotel that’s a mere four stories high on the bay side of Galveston Island. My husband and I went, for a while, every spring with our friends and enjoyed ending our evenings at the not-so-very-lofty rooftop bar whether we were staying at that hotel or not. It’s no Baba Nest in Phuket (Google that one!), but you can see the bay and a few buildings along The Strand, a commercial road on the bayside where they hold the Mardi Gras Parade. It was enough to make any girl from the burbs feel enchanted.
After moving to Asheville, I was delighted to learn there are several rooftop bars in our sweet mountain hamlet with the potential for imbibing while viewing the cityscape and mountains, thereby magnifying my sense of self-worth and promoting the feeling of being above it all. I’m certain the price of a drink is inflated by a factor of how many floors up one must rise to get to the top. In comparison, I’ve paid more to go on a cruise where the wind was prohibitively gusty and the dizziness and puking left me longing for a nice, steady rooftop bar, or even a disreputable dive on stable ground. Doling out a few extra bucks for a fancy drink on top of a building is preferable to a disaster at sea.
So, once we were able to find a local rooftop bar and were amiable to shelling out a fragment of our retirement funds, my husband and I landed atop the 4th floor of the Cambria Hotel at Hemingway’s Cuba. The question arose as to whether a bar can be labeled “rooftop” if it is positioned only halfway up the building and a great portion of the view is blocked by the rest of the structure, possibly 4 more stories of obstruction. My later research showed that this is a common arrangement, used if the open view is pretty decent and patrons aren’t really missing anything spectacular due to the adjacent vertical extension. I don’t approve of this situation since anyone in the taller part of the building can look out to a better view and be far above the people enjoying their pricey drinks on what might just as well be called a patio. It makes me wonder if there’s a more exclusive rooftop bar atop that extra bit of hotel where the drinks are even more expensive and the unobstructed vistas are reserved for movie stars or royalty or important folks who arrive in limousines.
I let go of that notion so that I might allow myself to enjoy the moment. We met some friends out on the halfway-up-the building outdoor bar and restaurant and proceeded with the merry making and town/mountain viewing. Not all the rooftop bars in Asheville are actually on the roof top, but you can feel like it’s a step up from the ordinary, even if it is just above the street and a parking garage looms in the distance. There’s plenty of mountain views here to attract the wannabe rooftop drinkers/gawkers if they arrive before sundown.
For our next upstairs visit, we took my son and his girlfriend to the Top of the Monk. We’d already been to the basement of the Thirsty Monk on a previous outing with friends. The place reminded me of a medieval prison cell and I would just as soon have descended the stairs to the Hobbit House basement and tapped a few kegs of homebrew as sit in that dull and dankish tomb swilling whatever beer was on offer. It seemed the kind of place where swilling was encouraged. My expectations were low for going up. It did not seem to be the kind of place that could deliver that living-the-high-life feeling just by stomping up a single, albeit long, staircase to the actual rooftop of this two-story building.
The bar was inside, next to a diminutive outdoor patio. We ordered our drinks. I was nicely surprised by the alcohol menu. They might be ale quaffers in the basement, but they knew the rules of the rooftop bar at the top of the stairs. Fancy pink and blue drinks, swirls of fruit and specially infused distillations are the spirits on offer to the patrons of the upper realms. Creative drinks with cute, local-referencing names like the Biltmore Blaster or the French Broad Squeeze are the type of cocktails to try when one is out in the open and above the ground in this hip and trendy city. A daquiri by any other name is just as inebriating.
As we got comfortable on the upper deck, we sipped our selections and reveled in the view of the mountains, a few parking garages, the post office and the bus station. Top of the Monk wasn’t so bad. Sometimes the company you keep can create the proper vibe required for downing pricey drinks while watching the sun go down over some pretty spectacular hills. I simply vowed my next visit to a rooftop bar would be the utmost in class and style with a 360° view.
Capella on 9 was our next stop. It took my guy and I a bit of a tour around downtown before we found the hotel we were seeking (oddly, some streets didn’t go through to the street we needed). It was a Marriott Hotel with an impressive lobby which got me feeling this would be the rooftop bar experience I was wanting. We took the elevator to the 9th floor. Upon exiting the elevator, I was slightly disheartened by the fact that there was a large indoor bar. Think obstruction of view. It was empty. We wandered around in it, looking for the outside portion. Beyond the indoor lounge we found a tiny sliver of a deck with a few tables, also empty. My heart sank. This was not the hip, happening spot I had anticipated. Finally, we turned back toward the elevator doors and spotted a narrow corridor leading to a place of sunshine. We followed that glow until we reached a nondescript entryway to the greater outdoors. Here at last was my Shangri La. Or perhaps the best I could hope for in a city of short buildings.
The wide-open veranda, the swanky drinks menu, the sweeping view of city and peaks were all rendered into a perfect experience, with the addition of a great group of convivial pals, for mingling on top of a downtown highish-in-the-sky location. I’ve learned, after hanging out on a few rooftop bars, that the company of friends is the most important ingredient in the recipe for garnering that special feeling, no matter the actual altitude. I’ll have the Pisgah Sunset please.