Winter is Coming

Rooftop ice rinks are the new High Line

Architecture Interiors National
Rooftop ice rinks are the new High Line (Courtesy The Watergate Hotel)
Rooftop ice rinks are the new High Line (Courtesy The Watergate Hotel)

Just in time for the cold weather to set in, a new trend in urban entertainment is heating up: rooftop ice rinks.

The Watergate Hotel in Washington, D.C. will open a skating rink and lounge on November 16, giving guests and visitors another reason to visit its rooftop bar and a new way to take in views of the nation’s capital, 14 stories above the street.

“There are other skating rinks in the District of Columbia, but there isn’t another hotel in D.C. that has a skating rink on the roof,” said Debbie Johnsen, the hotel’s digital marketing director.

The hotel’s management team was looking for a way to attract people to its Top of the Gate rooftop bar during the winter months, and decided adding a rooftop rink would do that, explained general manager Jeff David.

“We were brainstorming about how we could keep the popularity of the Top of the Gate going–how we could extend it for 12 months of the year,” he said. “This was almost a no-brainer.”

Becoming a popular ice skating destination is perhaps an unexpected direction for the Watergate, which is known for its association with the 1972 break-in of the Democrat National Committee headquarters in the adjacent Watergate office building. The hotel marks its 50th anniversary this year, after closing in 2007 and reopening last year following a $125 million, six-year renovation.

(Ron Blunt)

Watergate Hotel (Ron Blunt)

The hotel’s oval rink, called Top of the Skate, measures 70 by 20 feet and can accommodate 40 to 50 skaters at a time. Open during the winter months, it offers views of the Potomac River and the city’s monuments while patrons enjoy S’mores, mulled wine, and German-style pretzels in the lounge. The rink also features a skate-up bar so guests can order a drink without leaving the ice.

The Watergate’s rink is the latest in a series of rooftop ice rinks that are opening around the world, often as part of hotels.

These rinks constitute a new trend aimed at rejuvenating cities by giving people another reason to come downtown in the winter months, when tourists tend to visit in fewer numbers. They also represent a relatively low-cost, creative use of previously dormant urban space.



Their appeal is unmistakable; they combine two things many people like: skating rinks and rooftop bars. For patrons, they offer vistas that ground-level rinks don’t have and a new way to socialize, combining entertainment and exercise. For hotels, rooftop rinks are photogenic and provide a new experience to draw patrons. They’re ideal settings for “selfie” moments that can later be posted on Facebook, further promoting the hotel. The Watergate even has an ice skating package, which includes skating and skate rentals and a reduced room rate for skaters who want to stay overnight.

Some rooftop rinks are made with real ice. Others, including the one at the Watergate, are made with synthetic ice, composed of interlocking polymer panels designed for skating with conventional metal-bladed ice skates. The synthetic ice panels don’t add as much weight to a roof as actual ice would and require less maintenance. They can also be installed in a relatively short time and dismantled when the season is over.

Europe’s highest rooftop rink opened last winter atop the 354-meter OKO tower in Moscow’s commercial district.

London got its first rooftop rink on November 2, when Skylight London opened at Skylight Tobacco Dock in East London. Located on the 10th floor of the Penning Street parking garage, where a croquet court was, the rink doubles as a rooftop bar, complete with cocktails and chocolate fondue.

(Courtesy Skylight London)

Skylight London at Skylight Tobacco Dock (Courtesy Skylight London)

In Toronto, a division of the Molson Coors Brewing Company built a temporary, 100-foot-by-45-foot rink atop a 32-story office building for winners of its #AnythingForHockey contest in 2015. There was so much interest the rink was later opened to the public for group bookings, but it was eventually dismantled.

Other rinks prove that winter temperatures aren’t a requirement to enjoy this amenity. Las Vegas has The Ice Rink at Boulevard Pool, a 4,200-square-foot rink on the roof of The Cosmopolitan Hotel, where skaters can take in views of the Strip from four stories up.

Construction also began this month on Atlanta’s Skate the Sky, a 3,500-square-foot rink 10 stories above Ponce City Market on Ponce De Leon Avenue. Capable of holding 90 to 100 skaters at a time, it’s scheduled to open November 20.

“I don’t think there’s another rooftop skating rink anywhere in Atlanta or maybe even in the Southeast,” Brett Hull-Ryde of Slater Hospitality, which will operate the rink, told Fox5 in Atlanta. “We’re happy that we’re getting this opportunity to show people another way to have some fun.”

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