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Manhattan is a special place for elevated drinking. Nowhere else combines such a concentration of skyscrapers, such a variety of neighborhoods, and so many famous and visually interesting sights. Rooftop Drinker is the first dedicated guide to New York’s rooftop bars. Our website launched in the summer of 2011 and was substantially updated this summer. We are are currently working on an iPhone app.

By our count there are almost forty rooftop bars in Manhattan. We’ve photographed and reviewed almost all of these; there are just a couple of guests- and members-only locations that won’t let us in. Although most of our favorite bars are literally rooftops, we define “rooftop” broadly to include those on the upper levels of high buldings even if they are entirely indoors.

We visit each bar at least twice, once during the day (ideally at dusk) and once at night. We take lots of photos, many of which are still in post-production and will be added to the site progressively over the season. We’ve made photos central to the design of the site.

Our other key design decision has been to make prominent our own views about each bar. We give every establishment a rating on a scale from one to five stars, and write frank (and therefore often highly critical) reviews.

This bucks a trend on the web in general to rely on ratings supplied by users. We think that this kind of crowdsourcing is rarely a good idea. When it comes to restaurants and bars, the sample size is almost always too small for an average rating to be meaningful. There is nothing stopping the proprietor of an establishment (or one of its competitors) from distorting the number by posting multiple positive (or negative) reviews from multiple computers.

Moreover, those reviews that are posted by genuine users are rarely representative. If you browse through the contributions on NYmag.com (a website with editorial reviews that we very much respect — mostly), you’ll find a lot of people venting about their bad experiences in organizing parties at particular bars. This is all very well, but from the point of view of a regular patron these contributions are largely irrelevant. The problem is that the people who have the greatest incentive to post reviews are usually those who have had some kind of marginal experience. And very few people who post user reviews have an adequate basis for comparison; for a review of 230 Fifth to be meaningful, for example, you don’t only need to have visited 230 Fifth. You need to have visited its competitors.

We have. If you’re only going to go to a handful rooftop bars this summer, you want to go the best. Here they are.