5 Roofs in New York City

As Zelda has written on here before, roof access is one of the most coveted outdoor amenities in New York City — probably ranking above fire escape, but below backyard or legitimate terrace (but, like, who has that?). It’s common enough that you almost definitely have at least one friend with an accessible roof…or a roof you’re not actually supposed to access but do anyway. I’ve been lucky enough to have been on many New York roofs, and as I approach six years in this city, I decided to use this post to reflect on getting new perspectives every now and then, up above it all.

Alphabet City, November 2012: My first apartment in the city was a fifth-floor walk-up on Avenue C. We moved in three months before lower Manhattan was plunged into darkness and water thanks to Hurricane Sandy. What a lot of people forget about Sandy is that a week later we were hit with a Nor’easter. And other than the dog pile my roommates and I made on our couch as the water rolled in the night of the hurricane, I think that’s what I remember most. I remember sleeping under eight blankets in sweats because it was so cold and we didn’t have heat or hot water. But I also remember that it was the first snow we’d experienced in New York, and we were still excited about that: excited enough to climb up to the roof and tromp through the fresh powder and revel in how ridiculous it was that people say climate change isn’t real. We were so lucky to have that roof. To have a place that was ours, falling apart or not. Those two months post-Sandy made us.

Crown Heights, August 2014: Friend-of-the-blog Katie had an awesome roof. She doesn’t live in that apartment anymore, but I still remember it as my first real introduction to New York roof culture. There was a party there in the summer of 2014 that I always kind of felt like was the last college party I ever went to. Granted, everyone there was at least two years out of college, if not more; in fact we were technically a few months post receiving our graduate degrees. But looking back, it felt like our last night of being students, in a very collegiate way. We were saying goodbye to an international cohort who was going back to Australia post-graduation, and celebrating with beer and cheap booze from red Solo cups, a flip cup tournament and beer pong. Another party on that same roof eight months later would feel somehow more adult. I think it was one of the last times all my friends from grad school were together, before we moved on from that phase of our lives. I miss that roof.

Bushwick, December 2015: My second apartment in NYC was advertised with “roof access.” It was a new construction Bushwick duplex, with a skylight in the living room but no air conditioning, that is to date my longest-lasting abode in the city. Once we moved in, we discover that by “roof access” they meant “a rickety ladder in the middle of the stairwell that brought you to a heavy hatch that led out to a decidedly slanted roof.” Getting from the back of said roof (which had no gates or walls and scared me out of my mind) to the front part, which had the “view,” often required a jogging start in order to ascend from one plateau to the other. Still, we loved that roof. One of the features of the apartment that was not a selling point in the beginning, but that I grew to love, was that it was basically parallel to an elevated train line. And when you were on the roof, you could wave at the trains as they went by, occasionally getting a wave or nod back from a conductor or some small child staring out the window. We drank many beers and danced to a lot of songs on that roof. On New Year’s Eve 2015, something compelled us to brave both the ladder and the cold. We’d hosted a party that had dispersed early, and so we made our way up into the frigid night to ring in the new year, popping champagne as the trains rolled by. I’m still proud of every beer, wine, and champagne bottle I got up that ladder.

Roosevelt Island, June 2017: Last June, my cousin, who lives with my aunt on Roosevelt Island graduated from high school. My grandmother and some family friends came to town, and we had a cook-out on their very nice roof terrace to celebrate. Standing up there, it made me think about how Roosevelt Island is such a weird, liminal space in New York City. It’s technically part of Manhattan, I think, and sometimes gets lumped in with Queens, but it’s separated by a sliver of water from both. It feels like this little town smack dab in the middle of the East River. You could probably see four of the five boroughs from that roof we were on. A cook-out with family is a normal summertime occurrence for me, but a cook-out with family with the Manhattan and Queens skylines as a backdrop is not. It was a strange feeling having a foot in both those places, people from my Kentucky life colliding with my New York life, which somehow made the setting all the more fitting: a liminal space between my family and my life at home in the South, and my friends and life here. One foot in each place.

Crown Heights, July 2018: If that Roosevelt Island roof was my liminal space between Kentucky and New York, last week’s evening on Zelda’s Crown Heights rooftop really represents my life in New York. We’d gathered with our book club, made up of my female New York tribe, and after dinner and much discussion of the month’s pick, we invited the boys to join us for cobbler and drinks up top. Surrounded by my chosen family, I found myself thinking about the life I’ve spent the last six years building here — a life that feels like it belongs to an adult, and that also feels like it belongs to me. It’s a life that sees me drinking gin and tonics (with a splash of St. Germain) on a roof top with some of my favorite people not just in New York, but in the whole world. The unseasonably cool air was cold on my bare feet as we discussed our favorite Harry Potter books, groaned about having to attend any more weddings this year, tried to figure out how one gets into the career of “consulting,” and worshipped at the altar of the Church of Janelle Monae. That roof, on that night, was the life that six years in this place made for me. And I looked at and said, “Maybe I’ll never feel like a New Yorker, but I have found my New York. And it’s pretty damn great.”


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