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Industrial Rooftop Parties – The 21st Century Speakeasy

Socializing on the ‘high ground’ in the urban landscape has become increasingly popular in the 21st century whose growth has been spurred by the construction of rooftop platforms on new buildings and retro-fitted rooftop platform for social affairs on older buildings. Being on the rooftop represents more of a psychological rather than physical connotation because a rooftop event doesn’t mean that you’re necessarily you’re on the highest platform in the area, rather that you’re on the top of a specific building. It’s not unusual to be on the rooftop of a 30 story building and still be in the shadows of surrounding taller buildings. The important psychological element is that you’re on top of whatever structure you’re on – your personal top of the world feeling.

Economically, for building management bars and restaurants are an excellent way to enhance revenue because they charge a premium to purchase booze and meals. It’s premium price for premium height. Some buildings have even shelled out substantial sums to install a moveable canopy to accommodate year-round activity – and continued charging premium prices particularly in boutique and swanky hotel establishments.

While overall there are considerably more rooftops for parties, this is another class of rooftop party whose numbers are dwindling and are sadly becoming a rare urban occurrence – proverbially a “last call.” The disappearing rooftop venues to which I refer which are disappearing the most fun are located in the industrial sections of not-yet-totally-gentrified sections in the architectural sense working class NYC neighborhoods such as Bushwick, Long Island City, and Alphabet City in the East Village.

Accessibility is via an often sticky, industrial gray staircase to a massive steel door. The rooftop itself is more Ralph Kramden than Ralph Lauren, a working class industrial feel, not a contrived throwback, to an urban Americana when locals escaped the stifling heat of their apartments to schmooze with their neighbors for nocturnal gatherings. Such events were part of daily life. Today it’s a special treat yet psychologically they still conjure up memories past.

Nowadays the demographics consist of genuine struggling, starving artists and other under-employed, deep in college debt Millennials who are making the best of a technical economic depression. It’s a slice of the urban Americana because the economy keeps people more rooted to their urban environment instead of spending a fortune for the weekend in the Hamptons.

For this reason in the “backwater” urban section working class beer is hauled from a bucket or cooler of ice, with chips, pretzels and sometimes a grill to make homemade burgers and hotdogs. And smokes. The aesthetics are direct and simple, raw industrial as everyone mills about and chitchats under exposed water towers. You can feel the soft summer zephyrs as the sunset welcomes twilight and the scintillating lights from the surrounding buildings, bridges, and streets wink and blink and greet the early evening. And you can hear the rhythm and hum of the urban summer evening with an occasional aural dash of a siren or two. And the more industrial the setting the more it takes on a visually edgy cyberpunk atmosphere.

In cold-weather cities it’s a cherished experience that’s short-lived so people embrace these moments more tightly and indelibly mark it in their memories. Not only is it increasingly more difficult to find such venues but municipalities’ are enforcing quality of life laws making holding such events on the down low challenging. It’s one of the last few remaining summer bastions of urban freedom perhaps soon to be the 21st century speakeasy.

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