With the recent opening of the Line hotel in San Francisco and the Kissel in Oakland, just to name a few, it’s fair to say the Bay Area is having a boutique hotel moment. While a hotel opening these days is unimaginable with at least one high-profile restaurant, another emerging must-have ingredient seems to be the rooftop bar. It makes sense — as many new hotels occupy highrise buildings in San Francisco, Oakland, and Berkeley, it would be a shame to forgo the views. But since the Bay is no Los Angeles or Miami, with the vistas and the cool factor comes a unique local challenge: making a rooftop bar or restaurant appealing despite the Bay Area’s cool temperatures and notorious fog.
In recent months, many restaurant operators have had to deal with this question. “The biggest challenge we face in San Francisco is dealing with microclimates,” says restaurateur John Park, who recently opened a second location of Nikkei restaurant Kaiyo on the roof of the Hyatt Place in South Park, 12 stories above street level. A dedicated elevator takes diners to a lush oasis in the sky, where tropical vibes and video projections of warm destinations contrast the often chilly weather. “When we opened, we always knew the cold would be a factor, especially in the winter,” he says. The bar and restaurant was equipped from the start with heaters and soft blankets guests can drape over their windbreakers, but soon after opening Kaiyo also installed a glass windshield on the east side of the restaurant, directly opposite its bar, to protect patrons from the strong wind gusts. “The glass windshield works so well that we’re currently in the process of adding another one on the north side of our space,” Park says.
Clever ways to keep the wind at bay were definitely on the minds of the design team at Rise Over Run, a rooftop bat at the newly opened the Line hotel in San Francisco’s downtown. “This is San Francisco, and with that comes seasonal weather shifts, especially when you’re 13 floors up,” says food and beverage director Bryan Woolley. “But we designed Rise Over Run to take those factors into account and hopefully without compromising the rooftop experience.” Part of the bar, which is currently open from 5:30 to 11 p.m, is the “solarium”, a glass-covered seating area that feels simultaneously airy and protected. Additionally, the outdoor rooftop area has extended glass railings to limit cross-wind.
Plexiglass wind-blocking walls can be also found at the new Study Hall Rooftop Lounge atop the Residence Inn in downtown Berkeley, but not in Oakland’s High5 Rooftop Bar at the latest addition to the city’s hotel scene, the Kissel. Only two floors above ground, it also features an indoor-outdoor layout and is open for dinner and brunch — on a recent weekend visit, abundant rays of sunshine were warming up the mimosa-sipping diners.
But the low floor and the favorable daytime weather don’t cancel out the mad dash to add some heat. Heaters lamps are a must, of course, but the hot commodity du jour is live fire. “We’re always full, and everyone’s always requesting fire pits,” says High5’s food and beverage director John Savage. And while High5 already has two of those, just like Study Hall and Rise Over Run, Savage is contemplating ordering 12 more. The individual fire pits would double as tables, thanks to their wide rims, and will be able to keep more patrons cozy.
For those who are still cold, there are also good old-fashioned blankets. Kaiyo has been doubling up on the extra layer for the winter, and they’ve been added at Rise Over Run and Study Hall, allocated upon request. “Our intention is to offer guests varying levels of warmth to be able to enjoy the sensory experience of the rooftop,” says Rise Over Run’s Wolley. The blankets might conceal your chic outfit but are apparently necessary for the Bay Area rooftop hang. “They make the guest feel like they’re enjoying a meal or drink in the comfort of their own home — but with killer views,” Kaiyo’s John Park says.
Judging by the occupancy at the chilly new rooftop destinations, Bay Area residents trained by Fogust, long outdoor lines for ramen, and pandemic-era parklet dining, are adjusting well. “We luckily have not received complaints from guests,” says Dianna Teves, Residence Inn Berkeley’s General Manager. “We have, however, received more requests than expected for large party reservations, ranging in size from 20-60 people.” Body heat — it matters too.