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In warm weather, some watering holes are guaranteed to put you on top of the world. Keith Barker-Main presses the lift button for London’s best rooftop havens
In their classic 1962 hit, soul sensations The Drifters knew exactly where to go to get away from ‘the hustling crowd and the rat-race noise’ – up on the roof. Smart move. And if that roof comes with a supply of cucumber-cool drinks, so much the better. Shoreditch House, with its inviting pool, is an obvious candidate, but if you’re not a member, or can’t tag along with someone who is, there are plenty of other high fliers to choose from.
Rooftop at the Boundary
A short leap from Shoreditch House lands you on an altogether more accessible rooftop. The aerial garden atop Terence Conran’s converted former warehouse, Boundary, is not just for members. With a wood-burning open fireplace for chillier evenings and parasols for Ray-Ban days, the vibe is 1980s boho California – Tequila sunrises against a gritty London skyline. Order elderflower sling cocktails (£9), pitchers of sangria or planter’s punch (£22.50), Breton cider and wines from £4.50 a glass. Food is posh picnic/pukka barbecue, with lobster, prawns, rib-eye and trout from the robata grill, to suit a cast of creatives and demob-happy City suits. Note: Rooftop at the Boundary is open from 30 March to 30 September.
Rockwell at The Trafalgar Hotel
The Trafalgar Hotel doesn’t exactly shout the fact that it has a skyline bar from the rooftops, but persevere and you’ll discover a gem. Take the lift from the lobby all the way up, bear right and at the end of a nondescript corridor a discreet staircase leads to a fabulous, newly renovated sundeck. Some of the best views in town place you eyeball to eyeball with Horatio on his column. Cream loungers and wooden benches set the tone, and a bar – open in fine weather only – dispenses ice-cold lagers, chilled bubbly and cooling fresh fruit cocktails in coupes.
Glitzy US brand Sushisamba has brought its exotic thrills to this venue high up in the Heron Tower boasting absolutely awe-inspiring views. On a sunny day, take the warp-speed lift up to the 39th floor and bag a spot on the restaurant's ample wraparound terrace. Far-reaching vistas of the whole of London include all of the capital's landmarks, from Crystal Palace's radio transmitter, to Tower Bridge, the Gherkin, the Olympic stadium, and beyond. Even hardened City boys can't help but flock to the floor-to-ceiling windows, iPhone in hand – especially when the sun is setting.
Demi Moore, Alicia Keys and Sarah Jessica Parker have all been spotted getting into the spirit of this site's three glorious roof spaces. Happily, the lofty mixology on display does not translate into sky-high pricing: allow £9 for various tempting mixes that reflect the Japanese and Spanish themed cuisine at Aqua’s two restaurants. Wild dragon (a gin, dragon fruit, wild berries and lemongrass mule) is typical of a range of thirst-quenchers served with complimentary nibbles at aperitivo hour. Otherwise, enjoy ice-cold lager and rosé wine as DJs spin Balearic beats. And if the weather should revert to typically English form, you can take the party indoors to Aqua’s main bar.
The Big Chill House
Those who aren’t spending the entire summer on the festival circuit can still get in the party mood with bottles of cava (£19.75), wine (from £13.50) or a Bellini (£5.75) on the funky terrace of The Big Chill’s King’s Cross HQ. The view may be rather more grungy than bucolic Herefordshire – the August Big Chill festival takes place in the grounds of Eastnor Castle – but the ambience is every bit as mellow. With DJs, acoustic sets, performance art, barbecues and ‘good for two people’ platters, this laid-back urban space is always a festival in its own right (though minus the mud).
The Roof Gardens
This is London’s most stunning rooftop. Formerly part of long-defunct art deco department store Derry and Toms, it provides a throwback to the depressed 1930s, when escapist fantasy was all. Guests attending the venue’s chi-chi nightclub get to roam extensive grounds that include a woodland-style garden complete with stream, pond and resident flamingoes, as well as a walled mock-Tudor rose garden and a spectacular cloistered Spanish garden straight out of a Hollywood mansion. Throughout summer, weekend barbecues provide a chance to soak in this lush, landscaped wonderland.
Take the express lift at D&D London’s smart City restaurant and step out into a glorious arboretum in the round. Coq d’Argent’s upper sanctum boasts trailing greenery, manicured lawns, great views of the Gherkin and, most importantly, an outdoor bar. Piper-Heidsieck or a large glass of Chablis will set you back just under a tenner, Sagres lager £4.50. Patio heaters and parasols mitigate summer’s caprices, as do high pink sandstone walls that serve equally as a windbreak or sun trap. Although it’s mostly a City workers’ haunt, this attractive proposition deserves attention from those who don’t normally venture so far east.
The White House
A fine spot for a Sunday sundowner cocktail – a lemongrass and pomegranate mojito perhaps or a Tequila, lime, Midori and watermelon cooler – the roof at The White House provides a pretty good reason to trundle down the Northern Line to sunny SW4. Lookswise, the White House is Cubist in design and wood-decked, with wines that start at around £15 or double that for fashionable fizz Prosecco. It’s also a good place for a breather when the pace gets hectic – the venue, open from Friday to Sunday only (and Thursday from 2 June), hosts full-on house nights that see in the sunrise in summer.
The Bar & Sky Terrace
One of the area’s best-kept ‘open’ secrets, where prices are no more than West End average. Order pink Champagne, a mojito, a twinkle or good old-fashioned Pimm’s and imagine yourself part of the private jet-set as sweaty commuters jostle at the gates of hell below (the entrance to Oxford Circus tube). Pack Persol or Prada shades for when the weather goes all Saharan on us. As well as bar snacks, the barbie comes out on most days, though if rain threatens to stop play, shelter is provided.
The fifth floor of this postmodern King’s Cross pub, gastro kitchen and cocktail lounge is given over to a walled roof terrace. It’s particularly useful as a post-work flop spot or for chilling when the venue’s regular all-night house and techno clubs are in full swing. The decked space is dotted with leather sofas and carved elephant chairs, but greenery is scant; for that check out Patrick Blanc’s stunning vertical garden, whose lush foliage envelops the entire exterior of the building. Wines start at £14.50, while £6.80 buys a bramble, cosmopolitan or dark and stormy – the rum and ginger beer classic, not the weather, we hope.