Rooftop bars and eating spaces continue to shine, particularly in urban areas. Designing a rooftop versus a street-level foodservice outlet comes with a variety of equipment and design considerations.

Aba FullExterior creditJeffMariniAba Chicago

Equipping and Designing Rooftop Spaces

Charmaine’s is a popular indoor-outdoor rooftop space at San Francisco Proper Hotel. Windproof panels were installed around the entire patio for extra weather protection, while furnishings with bearable weight were chosen specifically to handle high winds and storms.

SF Proper Charmaines 12162017 Manolo 034 150DPI

The space includes a central bar with four wells, four speed rails and five single-door undercounter refrigerators. Cooking equipment includes a combi oven, a six-burner range, a salamander and two fryers for the menu of creative small plates.

Here, Steven Solari, director of engineering at San Francisco Proper Hotel, lists the top five areas to consider when developing a rooftop space.

1. Weight: Calculate the total loadbearing weight of equipment, furnishings, soil, etc., to maintain consistency with local codes.

2. Weather: Consider installing a retractable roof or glass doors/windows to make the most of the rooftop year-round, and opt for durable, washable furnishings. Install retractable coverings for any exposed bar and cooking equipment. For extra protection against the elements, consider windproof glass panels.

3. Bolting: Ensure equipment choices, including barstools, furniture and any trellises, can withstand high winds.

4. Egress: Note the different points of entry and exit to the rooftop space. Will guests access the space via an elevator? Stairs? Are emergency exits sufficient?

5. Greenery: Consider installing garden boxes for usable herbs and/or decorative vegetation.


Rooftop E&S

  • Gas-fired grills
  • Small-scale cooking equipment and rapid-speed ovens
  • Frozen drink machines
  • Hand sinks and undercounter dishwashing
  • Undercounter refrigeration
  • Metal trays or melamine servingware
  • Durable or plastic glassware
  • Heating elements for cooler days and nights 

Offshore Chicago

One of the newest rooftop spaces also earns bragging rights as the largest. The Guinness Book of World Records has named Offshore, a 36,000-square-foot space on Chicago’s Navy Pier, as the largest rooftop venue in the country. Housed within The Sable, a new luxury hotel, it offers panoramic views of Lake Michigan and the city skyline as well as an 8,500-square-foot indoor-outdoor central bar with glass doors that can transition the space based on weather.

Inside, the ceiling height spans 16 feet. It’s the bar, however, that sets the stage at 100 feet long with 60 barstools and white marble, brass and iron-like materials, accented by deep blues and warm yellows.
Development and design team: Maverick Hotels and Restaurants, CIBC, KOO Architecture, Concentrics Restaurant Group, James McHugh Construction Company, and Curio by Hilton Hotels