Roof Inspection

Roof Inspection

Yesterday at the stroke of 4 p.m., New Haven’s rooftop dining and drinking options grew by 50%.

Gioia had launched its long-awaited rooftop bar, and I arrived at 4:10, 40 minutes before the moment of the summer solstice. Sure enough, it was the hottest day of the year so far, and I’d made the mistake of walking the mile over in jeans with 15 pounds of camera gear slung over my shoulder.

Red-faced and damp-shirted, with the sun beaming down through a festooned pergola, I sat down and asked my bartender, Spike, to recommend a cocktail for a day like this. Without hesitation, he suggested the Amalfi Spritz ($12), a blend of Campari, limoncello, passionfruit liqueur, lemon juice and club soda. Orangey pink and served in large bulbous stemware, the drink was refreshing just to look at, and a juicy ripe grapefruit hit my nose before I could take a sip. Once I did, I found a flavor that was more rind than fruit, but, as Italian drinkers have long known, the bitter is a hedge against the sweet and makes it easier to go slow. The flavor did sweeten and mellow as I drank, and, thanks to the drink, so did I.

I began to take broader stock. The crystalline granite bartop was lunar and pearlescent, its dusky accents the color of Luxardo cherries. The music was vibey and summery. The bartenders were clean-cut and tatted, and the service was smart, friendly, attentive. I noticed a breeze passing through, which for some reason reminded me to check the time: 4:50—the solstice, right on the nose. The sun dipped behind a thick cross beam of the pergola, and the bar beneath it felt like the summer spot New Haven’s been missing.

Emboldened, I ordered the Pretty Fly for a Mai Tai ($13), an ambitious blend of rum, amaro, crème de banane, Campari, almond orgeat and lemon juice poured over a heap of pebble ice, sprinkled with nutmeg and finished with a sprig of mint. The flavor started out off-balance, as if the bitter liqueurs were overpowering things while the ice was diluting them. Fortunately, about an eighth of the way down, the crème de banana and the orgeat began to assert themselves, and the mint garnish began to hit my nose (literally as well as aromatically), adding dimension and lift.

Thinking it would be smart to eat something, I ordered the Spring Vegetable Salad ($16)—a smart move indeed. The slivered asparagus, peas in the pod (including a dark purple variety) and lettuces and herbs were lively and invigorating. The dressing was savory and tangy, just what I wanted, and, when I could wrangle them into a bite, a coarse chop of pistachios provided deep, earthy crunch with a hint of sweetness.

Eager for one more drink, I went with the Nonni’s Holy Water ($13), a deceptively simple-looking, off-white, clarified cocktail fancied up visually by a half rim of cucumber powder. The aroma was like a salted honeydew, and the taste was like a light coconut-citrus sorbet (made a touch sweeter by drinking from the powdered part of the rim), and both were divine.

Given their natural appeal, rooftop bars can get away with cutting corners. I’m happy to report that, like yesterday’s heat, the corners at Gioia measure just about 90 degrees.

Written and photographed by Dan Mims. Image 1, and in the background, image 3 feature Spike.

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