Another summer has come to an end, and while the sky is still blue and the air still warm and lovely, claim your piece of the Brooklyn sky. It’s yours for the price of a craft beer or a fancy cocktail.
I counted at least seven rooftop drinking and dining venues in Williamsburg: The Ides, Juliette, Bia67, L’isola, Zona Rosa, Berry Park, and Night of Joy. That means on any given night, whether you’re in the mood for French, Vietnamese, Italian, Mexican, or American fare, you can drink and dine on a breezy rooftop under the starz.
The Ides at the Wythe Hotel
If you have ever driven across the Midwest, you may have come across hand-written signs that read “Mystery Spot—one mile.” As a city girl, I always wanted to visit one, but whomever was driving me at the time wouldn’t make the detour. Plaintively, they would explain that Mystery Spots were just depression-era tourist traps built for gullible five-year-olds. For five bucks you get to see balls roll uphill and water spurt sideways, but these are just optical illusions, designed to separate your wallet from your back pocket.
When the Ides first opened, I thought of it as Williamsburg’s new Mystery Spot. There was talk of long lines, pricey cocktails, snooty gatekeepers, and an amazing view of the New York skyline. Frankly, the hype freaked me out.
I’m a proud local and I ain’t standing on no line to check out a Manhattan view I can see for free at the state park just steps away. And I can mix my own expensive cocktails, thank you very much! But the five-year-old in me wanted to see the Mystery Spot, needed to see the Mystery Spot, HAD TO SEE THE MYSTERY SPOT! So there I was, in my best Forever 21 party shirt, clutching a bag that looks and smells like real leather, waiting online in the swanky lobby of the Wythe Hotel. We chatted up the friendly gatekeeper, and within minutes we were escorted to the elevator and ascended to the exalted sixth-floor bar.
Well, it is an impressive space. It has that Ayn Rand/The Fountainhead vibe going on. The gigantic casement windows cast dramatic geometric shadows on the interior walls. It reminds me of all those 1940s, black-and-white corporate morality-tale movies, where heroic architecture played a major role.
Standing there at the bar, with a stunning Manhattan skyline as the backdrop, you feel rich and successful. You do! You’re expecting Leo DiCaprio in his Wolf of Wall Street suit to suddenly walk into the room. Maybe he’ll cozy up next to you and offer to buy you an $11 Dark and Stormy just because you’re carrying a vegan leather bag. But of course, that’s never gonna happen. This is Williamsburg, and nobody is wearing a suit. Expensive black jeans with stylish tears at the knees, yes; Brooks Brothers suits, no.
The optical illusion passes quickly, and I pay for my own drink. The prices are not too bad for a hotel bar. Cocktails run from $11 to $13, and craft beer starts at $6; teetotalers can order a Mexican Coke. (There is no food service at the bar.) I got a Reissdorf Kolsch, a pale German beer with a crisp hop finish. It was perfect for late summer. I took my drink out to the spacious and minimalist balcony.
As the sun dipped into the Manhattan skyline, Duran Duran belted out “my success, my Chinese rug, and crashing my car…” The Ides is my first Mystery Spot—and I liked it.
80 Wythe Avenue
Bia is a handsome rustic bar, with brick walls, high ceilings, skylights, and a roof deck, beneath the Williamsburg Bridge. This is not a rooftop to get away from the city, but to be part of it. First, get your drink and food from the friendly bartender, then climb the steep staircases to the roof. When you emerge from the dark bar and step into the waning sunshine, you’re a little disoriented by a kaleidoscope of competing images. Look southward and you’ll see a hodgepodge of buildings of different heights, from different periods: modern, gray towers butting up against old row houses with green awnings and red brick. Turn your head north and you’ll see graffitied walls and heavy-duty construction machinery. Walk around to a hidden corner, and there it is! A full few of the Williamsburg Bridge!
Look up, and a jet plane is slicing across the darkening sky. The deck is furnished with mix-and-match furniture: a few picnic tables, some patio chairs, and side tables. There are hanging plants, potted herbs, and cartoonish, modern-art murals.
There’s no theme to the space, but after a beer or two, you’ll think, yeah, I get it. This is a collage of the city, and I’m part of the collage. It’s living art. Oh, and here comes the sound of the J train rumbling through. You take the piping hot food out of the brown paper bag; you’re chowing down perfectly grilled corn with scallion oil, a spicy Bánh mì, and a rich oxtail stew with slippery wet noodles, and you’re like, Okay, this is good.
You’re happy with the authentic Vietnamese home cooking: comfort food that is freshly made and offered at reasonable prices. The Kostritzer, a German black lager recommended by the bartender, is fantastic: rich, dark, and so very smooth! Oh yeah, you’ll be back to check out the cocktails and the coconut chicken curry.
67 South 6th Street
L’isola’s spacious rooftop has long communal tables that can accommodate large groups, a great place for family gatherings or a reunion with old friends. There is a full menu, with pizza, pasta, meaty mains, and appetizers. I would characterize this food as contemporary, traditional Italian, meaning familiar dishes are lightened up with lots of fresh herbs, which are grown all around the rooftop. I spied rosemary, basil, and dill, as well as peppers and cherry tomatoes. The thin-crust, wood-oven pizza is just the way it should be, a little charred at the bottom, with fresh toppings and well-balanced flavors. There are so many to choose from, including the Margaritas Vongole e’ Pancetta (clams, pancetta, arugula, roasted garlic, and smoked mozzarella) and my fave, the Funghi e’ Salsiccia (mushrooms, ground sausage, and caramelized onions); there are even gluten-free pizzas and pastas. Prices are quite reasonable; small 12” pizzas are $9 to $14, and large 16″ pizzas are $16 to $20. There also many pasta dishes, like gnocchi, ravioli, and penne. Salad lovers can enjoy goat cheese with marinated olives over crisp fennel. Dessert is not their strong suit. The Italian cheesecake was dry, and the tiramisu tasted dull. Order the gelato and you’ll be okay. There are three stories to the restaurant, but everyone was on the roof. Lunch is a good buy; select pastas are only $10. Wine, beer, Italian sodas, and coffee are available. The service is friendly, and the waiters are polite and don’t push you to order more drinks every five minutes.
128 Metropolitan Avenue
Zona Rosa is the new kid on the block. It opened in August and was an instant hit. The rooftop bar is packed with diners every night, downing margaritas and sampling all kinds of tacos. The space has a past life as 3rd Ward’s Goods, a hamburger joint with a gleaming silver Airstream trailer as the ultimate hipster trophy kitchen. The trailer is still there, but now the restaurant attached to it seats about 130 people. It’s brought to you by the owners of Mesa Coyoacan (Graham Avenue), and Chef Ivan Garcia, also of Mesa Coyoacan, is the chef here. Come for the Mexican street food inspired by popular dishes from Zona Rosa, a tourist district in Mexico City with a historical bohemian vibe. There are three-tiered taco towers, a ceviche bar, and more ambitious fare, such as grilled sea bass and Barbacoa estilo Oaxaca (pit style BBQ), for dinner. I sampled the baby octopus ceviche ($14) and the beef cheek tacos ($11); both dishes were very tasty and nicely presented, but the portions are small, proof positive that tourist pricing has crossed over to the other side of the BQE. But hey, somebody has got to pay for that stylish designer build out.
571 Lorimer Street
In the mood for French bistro fare? How about duck confit? Escargot? Buckwheat crepes? Juliette has been around for so long that it’s almost an institution. A little bit of Paris in Hipsterville. A good place to stop off while shopping on Bedford. Go up to the roof deck on weekdays for a Juliette
spritz (Aperol, orange juice, and Blanc de Blanc) and some salmon tartare. On weekends, food is served only in the bistro and the adjoining garden room, and the roof decks are just for drinking (cocktails, wine, beer, and margaritas). According to our server, the kitchen simply cannot handle the volume upstairs for their popular weekend brunch. The open-air terrace is cheerfully casual, with bright yellow tables, yellow sunbrellas, and red metal chairs that are not very comfortable. I like to sit by the railing and watch shoppers dash across the street. I also enjoy tourists looking up and snapping my picture. I feel like a movie star, even though, deep down, I’m aware that it’s all about the funky terrace. Brunch runs from $10 to $15; dinner, $20 to $30; and for lunch you can get a grass-fed burger or a croque-madame for $14.
135 North 5th Street
6 Berry Park
The Berry Park bar is spacious. You can watch soccer on a giant screen downstairs or go up to the rooftop deck and grab a beer, cocktail, pickle backs, or one of those boozy, icy slush drinks and enjoy the NYC skyline in the distance. People love to come here for the sunset. It’s a very friendly, casual place. Brunch is served only on weekends; dinner is served throughout the week. It’s known for something called Frickles—deep fried pickles. The $12 hamburger comes with a boatload of fries. You can share the three-dip platter and its heap of hot pita chips with your drinking buddies. The food potions are huge. Most of it is your basic, traditional, all-American bar food. Though there is a kale omelet with goat cheese and grass-fed burgers.
4 Berry Street
Night of Joy
Night of Joy sounds a little like a bordello. But it’s not; more like a moody literary salon from young Hemingway’s Paris days. Antique velvet sofas and haunting wallpaper make this one of the most romantic bars in the neighborhood. No food, but lots of interesting herb-infused cocktails—beet and dill vodka, orange blossom rum lemonade, jalapeno and black currant tequila. Love potions for the literary set? The rooftop is decorated with lanterns and whimsical graffiti. The illuminated windows from tenement houses nearby should inspire a novel or two. Open from 5pm to 4pm every night.
667 Lorimer Street