Since the moment we first realized which direction was up, we've tried to capture and subdue the heavens. We name constellations, watch planets, shoot trash into space and send broken robots to Mars. We build skyscrapers that defy gravity, and then we build even taller ones, walled with glass. Most of our monsters come from the depths, while most of our superheroes come from the sky. As children we climb trees and launch rockets, and as adults we like to chug beer and sip wine on rooftops.
Perhaps part of the allure is the danger: We could get really, really hurt if we fell from up there. Perhaps part of it is some Mount Olympus fantasy we've never collectively been able to shake: We want to be as close to the clouds and drinking as much ambrosial nectar as possible. Or perhaps we like to lord it over all the little people below us, which was certainly easy to do during this past SXSW, when the streets were thronged with pedicabs, bikes, drunks, teenagers and baby strollers all swerving into accidents and bumping into curbs. And with all our new shiny buildings downtown, rooftop watering holes are sure to become the new porch patio, putting us a barstool closer to the gods.
719 W. Sixth St. 499-0600, www.molotovlounge.com . Hours: Daily, 4 p.m. to 2 a.m.
Despite its name and overtly Russian theme, Molotov is not that sort of Communist-themed bar. In fact, Molotov is one of the most capitalist places on Sixth Street, aiming to please every possible consumer. On any given night, both its new rooftop and indoors space are packed with businessmen in chinos, their shirts tucked in and their hair slicked back, and the girls who love them, wearing short skirts and drinking too fast for anyone's good. Molotov tends to play it safe as far as music goes (namely, anything by Michael Jackson) and the beers on tap cater to every basic taste: Guinness for the serious drinkers, Dos Equis for the "international" set, Fat Tire for the indie brewery lovers, Fireman's No. 4 for the Austinites, Shiner Bock for the hardcore Texans and Bud Light for the weightwatchers. The breezy rooftop is thronged with couples either kissing or arguing, and thus a great place to people-watch and take notes on human behavior.
Both upstairs and down, happy hour lasts from 4 to 9 all week long (and on Sundays, Mondays, and Tuesdays all night long), providing enough affordability that even the staunchest offended Commie can't stay idealistic for very long before caving and ordering a vodka soda ($4.50).
318 Colorado St. 474-4264, www.thehangarlounge.com . Hours: Mondays through Saturdays, 4 p.m. to 2 a.m.
On Hangar Lounge's relatively unhelpful (and granted, relatively new) website is an artist's rendition of what the place would eventually look like: cartoon people walking leisurely below a high roof, mid-century modern low-lying furniture and clean, streamlined spaces. Oddly, that pastel-colored 2D version is what the place actually looks like, many months, dollars, spilled drinks and an extra dimension later. From the pristine Astroturfed rooftop to the door gentlemen ("guys" seems too lowbrow a word here) wearing steward uniforms, Hangar Lounge's vision has been carefully calculated and executed. No matter that these days, airport waiting areas are associated with annoying lines at best and collective paranoia and fear at worst; Hangar Lounge's design scheme blithely ignores the agony of our modern airports and harks back to a more glamorous age when stewardesses were elite angels of the sky and flying seemed an exotic treat.
Getting past the design and their runway of a rooftop, however, Hangar Lounge is your typical Warehouse District bar - poppy songs that when you listen closer reveal menacing undertones à la Cee Lo; a sampling of fried foods (admittedly good greasy pretzels for $2.50, dry chicken tenders for $5.50); and bottled beers (no draughts, at least not on the roof) averaging $4.75. Still, the view is spectacular, the metal chairs boingy, and the place just high enough to make the people below look like ants, if you drink enough margaritas ($9).
612 W. Sixth St. 478-7275, www.unionparkaustin.com . Hours: Tuesdays through Fridays, 4 p.m. to 2 a.m.; Saturdays, 2 p.m. to 2 a.m.; and Sundays 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.
The roof at Union Park feels like a compound, with its high concrete walls and partial views (and separate bathrooms too, so no stumbling downstairs in a high-heeled frenzy). But there are many worse places to be trapped, and Union Park is a bastion against the spread of West Sixth Street chaos. The watchtower of a roof is protective rather than expansive, and the breeze ruffling the palm trees feels just right most nights.
In addition to providing views of traffic mishaps and road rage up and down West Sixth, Union Park is home to the sneaky frojito ($5 most nights, $3 on Thursdays), one of those deceivingly tasty drinks that you don't realize is full of alcohol until you're ordering another one and can't find your wallet or your friends. Never fear though - Union Park also has enough good food to cure a case of the suddenly-not-sobers, from fish tacos ($10) to Brazilian sirloin strips ($12). On Tuesdays there's Bingo, and on Sundays there's brunch, so it would behoove all of us to scramble up there when the zombie invasion comes and hunker down in the snug little microcosm they've made.