This city's bars and restaurants are looking to the skies like never before, with new rooftop spaces opening in the CBD, neighbourhoods and beaches. From heritage pubs expanding up and out into unseen spaces, and city nooks among the chimney pots, to ritzy vantage points with panoramic vistas, these brand new spots are your peak pleasure zones for summer.
El Camino Cantina
Tex-Mex food, margaritas, jukeboxes and a pack-a-poncho party vibe has landed on Manly Wharf's new rooftop with Rockpool Dining Group's 365-seat sister to its Rocks crowd-pleaser El Camino Cantina. The northern beaches version retains all the proven hits: sombreros aplenty, complimentary unlimited tortilla chips and salsas, soft-shell tacos, fajitas, burritos and those multi-flavoured frozen margaritas flowing from eight machines.
Ask for: Hickory-smoked barbecue brisket fajita, on a sizzling hotplate with house-made tortillas, pico de gallo, sour cream, cheese, vegies and sauteed onion. Cool the flames with an El Camino margarita – available in 15oz and 24oz serves and as a party-starting two-litre tower.
Manly Ferry Wharf, Belgrave Street and West Esplanade, Manly, elcaminocantina.com.au
Ess at The Governor
Job satisfaction skyrocketed for the armies of office workers in northwest suburb Macquarie Park when this big new pub arrived in August, and warmer weather is emphasising the charms of its 200-person rooftop bar, Ess (after Governess). With 360-degree views and its own bar and kitchen, the roof boasts the pub's best food action, courtesy of head chef Luke Lashford's Japanese robata grill. Small plates of smoky skewers and bites provide lovely little flavour punches complementing accomplished, creative cocktails showcasing bar manager Andrew Ratcliff's Baxter Inn and Eau de Vie credentials.
Ask for: The Governess, a refreshing mix of gin, lemon, raspberry and ginger float served with a blazed marshmallow. Follow up with Lashford's own favourite: Atlantic salmon, filleted in-house, marinated overnight in miso and soy, then blowtorched to order and served with shimeji mushrooms pickled in gin.
Rooftop, 9 Waterloo Road Macquarie Park, momentohospitality.com.au/the-governor
The final phase of The Imperial Erskineville's $6 million redevelopment activated the rooftop area of the inner-west pub famous for its role in the movie Priscilla. Like the rest of the venue beneath, UP riffs on its loveable, camp and inclusive past, with quasi-classical statuary, a gold-mirrored pizza oven, pastels and pop art. Under the glitter it's all heart, and the food brings nonna-made-it soul with a naughty wink.
Ask for: The $18 Felicity Frockaccino, Bernadette and Cindy Pastel are all classics given a slick of lipstick and a splash of 'tude. Pair with pizza from that glammed-up oven.
35 Erskineville Road, Erskineville, imperialerskineveille.com.au
Nick and Nora's in Parramatta. Photo: Supplied
Nick & Nora's
It's all wow factor up on the 26th floor of the Parramatta's V by Crown building, where the Speakeasy group's 300-person bar explores the upper reaches of opulence. The elevator doors open to glass cabinets filled with rare Champagne magnums, nebuchadnezzars and methuselahs (including Jay Z's blinging Ace of Spades). Having established upfront that you've hit the high life, the spectacle continues with a towering back bar's 900 spirits lit in a sunset glow, and two roomy outdoor terraces with Google Maps perspectives across greater Sydney. A copper telescope is trained on the Harbour Bridge; to the west you can watch sunset over the Blue Mountains, and indoors there's lush lounging in plush booths with built-in champagne buckets for bottles from the 50-plus selection.
Ask for: The Nick & Nora's Spritz adds vodka, bitter grapefruit liqueur, dry vermouth and soda to a choice of five champagnes. Ruinart Blanc de Blancs really makes it sing. Perfect companion: oysters with a GH Mumm and watermelon Granita.
Level 26, 45 Macquarie Street, Parramatta, nickandnoras.com.au
Old Mate's Place
Finding this CBD eyrie has quickly become a popular Sydney pastime; an elevator ride to an office building's fourth floor brings you to an unmarked door concealing an unexpected candlelit library with leather booth seating and shelves of books, artefacts and plants. This first level of Old Mate's Place packs so much atmosphere, many climb no further. But you should take the staircase up to a dinky little oasis amid the office rooftops, with festoon lighting, more plants and simple bench seating. It feels like a forbidden party – a vibe enhanced by its simple can bar with food and cocktails run up from below.
Ask for: The Mandy, a long citrusy mix of sake, fino sherry, gin, lemon juice and mandarin juice cuts through the rich flavours of the very generously stacked $28 charcuterie board with weekly changing meats and cheeses.
Level 4, 199 Clarence Street, Sydney, oldmates.sydney
Pizza at Manly Greenhouse. Photo: Supplied
Rooftop at Manly Greenhouse
It's uplifting to see this enviably situated beachside building back in use as a multi-level venue after four years vacant – and Manly's new asset is pretty from every angle. Few Sydney views can match the wide blue yonder outside Greenhouse's level three cocktail bar, and the does-what-it-says-on-the-tin fitout is lush with local greenery cascading from hanging planters. A retractable roof protects against unco-operative weather, and there's a corker of a cocktail list from Lobo Plantation graduate Rowan Vidler, blending bartender arts with beachy approachability.
Ask for: A long, cool sip from the selection of fresh, flower-hued $12 highballs. Lulu Melon, just gin and rockmelon juice, is simply perfect.
36-38 South Steyne, Manly, manlygreenhouse.com.au
The Rooftop at Quarryman's Hotel
Almost four years in the making, The Rooftop brings a California-channelling cocktail bar to this venerable, wedge-shaped Pyrmont pub. Out on the terrace, Matt Woods' playful design places a cactus garden against the Pyrmont skyline, with pretty pastel pink and mid-century furniture inside. Long summery cocktails dominate the menu, with a Tex-mex slant to the food.
Ask for: Spritzers are Sydney's summer go-to once more, and The Rooftop has a tasty trio; choose Aperol, kombucha or rose and fill in the gaps with a pickle fried chicken burger.
214-216 Harris Street, Pyrmont, quarrymans.com.au
The Rooftop Sydney at the Shelbourne Hotel
Viewed from a hanging chair in the fresh air, among tropical palms and festoon lights, handwoven rattan and shades of dreamy blue, Darling Harbour takes on a holiday vibe – especially when the sun sets over the water and the city lights start twinkling. The Shelbourne's just-opened rooftop space magnifies that mood with its Hamptons style cues, seafood-focused light dishes, fruity cocktail menu and a retractable roof for less tempting conditions.
Ask for: A $35 cocktail carafe suits the sun-soaked, wound-down surroundings and the West Hamptons Beach is a communal pleasure of gin with watermelon, citrus, mint and cucumber. Share kingfish ceviche with pomegranate, shallot, cucumber, jalapeno and nam jihm in witlof cups.
200 Sussex Street, Sydney, shelbournehotel.com.au
The other newbie in the Manly Wharf rooftop space is the sixth and newest Saké restaurant (also from Rockpool Dining Group). This 300-seater maximises those money-shot harbour views with an outdoor terrace for 50, and floor-to ceiling windows. The first northside Sake imports familiar winners such as 30 bins of sake and an izakaya-style menu from head chef Shoji Toru and consulting chef Shaun Presland, along with some site-specific exclusives including a bottled cocktail created with locals Manly Spirits Co., sundae on the dessert menu and Grandmaster sizzle – a take on Japan's traditional hamburger steak on a sizzling hotplate.
Ask for: Gin dominates the drinks menu, and Sake's four gin bowls include the $18 Love Child with the Neighbour, an infusion of Manly Spirits Co. Coastal Citrus Gin, coriander, grapefruit peel, karkalla and PS40 Bush Tonic. And it's hard to resist the super-kawaii appeal of bite-sized tuna and kingfish sashimi and vegie cones.
Manly Ferry Wharf, Belgrave Street and West Esplanade, Manly, sakerestaurant.com.au
Hyde Park House's pastel pink rooftop. Photo: James Brickwood
Slims Rooftop at Hyde Park House
Publican Warren Livingstone has form for rebirthing faded old pubs, with a beaut of a job on Waverley's Charing Cross Hotel, and his reinvention of the dingy former Hotel William into Hyde Park House is an even more impressive feat. The $5 million transformation's sweetest spot is its fourth-floor rooftop, a Slim Aarons photograph brought to life with pastel pink and orange ruffled umbrellas, pink walls, potted cacti and white furniture. Ex-Sake chef Taichi Ito's Japanese menu suits the elegant, light vibe and the commanding city views make you marvel that it's taken this pub more than 100 years to introduce rooftop drinking.
Ask for: The Japanese flavours in Relaxing at Lake Tahoe (pisco, Suntory whisky and matcha tea) are a perfect prelude to sashimi platters or the Teppan grill's teriyaki delights.
47-49 William Street, East Sydney, hydeparkhouse.com
Rooftops are a major focus for the Laundy group's 2019 plans, with upper-level outdoor drinking at The Marsden, a new-build brewery and pub at new suburb Marsden Park, heading towards a March opening, and a new pub under construction opposite Homebush Station, due to open mid-2019. The Woolloomooloo Bay Hotel will showcase its rooftop for the first time around next September as part of its $12 million renovation.
Meanwhile, Mantle Group Hospitality has secured tenancy for the entire 2000 sq m Westfield Sydney rooftop space and will be opening two venues there in early 2019: 400-seater Cantonese restaurant Duck and Rice and 800-capacity Middle Eastern Babylon. Both will feature indoor-outdoor dining and are designed by Brisbane-based architects Hogg and Lamb.