Sky high: Restaurants take advantage of roof space to improve dining experience

There are places in the world where hanging out on a rooftop is just a part of life. New York City, Paris, Greece, Singapore, and other glamorous cities around the world are known for rooftop destinations such as restaurants, spas, and lounges, and even extensions of private apartments.

Rooftop access gives people the advantage of breathtaking views and of feeling like VIP guests, and that trend is growing in Port Huron.

Being known as the Blue Water Area, Port Huron could benefit from additional rooftop access, which will allow people to have uninterrupted views of the St. Clair and Black Rivers. City Manager James Freed told The Keel requests for rooftop permits are on the rise.

With breathtaking views of the waterways, local restaurants are taking advantage of all their space, expanding from a dining room, to patio and now to the roof.

Some of the current rooftops around town include the Vintage Tavern, Rix's Rooftop, and Tio Gordo's Cocina, with more planned for the future.

Vintage Tavern has made the most of its roof deck./Heather TurnerVintage Tavern was one of the first to take advantage of the extra space.

Jeff Payton, owner of Vintage Tavern on Michigan Street in Port Huron, spent two years renovating part of the original F.W Woolworth and S.S Kresge store and the shipping and delivery area for Arden's department store.

Opening in 2007, Payton noticed the tavern wasn't as busy during the popular summer months like some of his competitors were, and decided to attempt to build a rooftop area for guests.

"There was no outdoor seating available," says Payton. "There was no view, especially being close to the water. Summer wasn't our busiest time and we needed to find a way to garner some of that business."

The bank only let him have funds for the project if Payton could find a way to open the restaurant year-round.

He worked with a structural engineer for weeks, and built 39 steps up to the space. He had to reinforce the area with 18 inch I-beams to make sure the roof could hold that much additional weight.

In 2011, the rooftop opened for year-round seating, thanks to thick vinyl curtains and heaters throughout.

"Thank goodness it did work out," he says.

Now patrons have panoramic views of the St. Clair and Black Rivers, and can enjoy the space, even when it's cold out.

"People sit up there when it's snowing, and there's a real 3D feel to it," says Payton. "They feel like they're part of the snowstorm."

When the temperatures dip down to super cold, the upstairs is only open Friday and Saturday, with limited hours, but that seems to rarely happen.

"More than anything, it's a different feel, it has a deck feel to it," Payton says of the space.

The added space has helped the restaurant thrive, he says.

Even the ghosts seem fine with the addition of the outdoor space.

During the original renovation of the building, Payton came across two spirits who seemed to him to be checking to see what he was doing with their building.

"I really don't believe in that stuff," says Payton. "But I know what I did see, and it was very peculiar."

Then on Halloween 2012, some unknown presence tripped the motion cameras, and a little flash of light could be seen on the film.

This encouraged Jeff and his team to contact Motor City Ghost Hunters to conduct an investigation.

After several hours overnight conducting their investigation in 2014, the ghost hunters concluded there were spirits in the space that are harmless to the patrons.

"I don't think they feel bothered at all," he says.

And neither do the guests, apparently.

"The Vintage is cool," says Port Huron area musician Raven Rae McVeigh. "It takes you back a little. And Vintage pizza is one of my favorite things to get."

For more information on Vintage Tavern, visit vintagetavern.net.

Another rooftop in Port Huron is Rix's Rooftop restaurant, which is actually the renovated penthouse in the Port Huron Office Center and used to be the Fogcutter restaurant.

"The view is absolutely stunning," says Rix's chef Ivan Sari. "It's a really nice place to come to. People are glad it's open again."

Rix's offers sweeping views of both rivers and of Canada, and offers a more upscale environment in their panoramic dining The top floor is home at Rix's Rooftop in downtown Port Huron./Heather Turnerroom.

Guests are also able to rent space for special events and catering. Sari says he hopes the food is good.

"The food we buy is top quality, and the chefs have a lot of experience," says Sari.

Sari touts the previous owner of the Fogcutternwith keeping the building and the reputation of the space in high regards so guests know they have a great spot to visit for a great experience.

Restaurants aren't the only places that are sprouting rooftop areas. Some condo and apartments are taking advantage of the water views and making top floors and their views a priority.

Developer Larry Jones is close to being finished with a new condo project on Huron Street, next door to Vintage Tavern.

The two phases of condo projects will share a community rooftop space that will have a patio area and restroom for the tenants to share.

It is part of a larger-scale renovation and installation of Arden's Alley, which will allow people to park on Quay, pass through the alley, and shop, dine and socialize.

This is just one more project that is revitalizing the city of Port Huron.

"We like to say that we've only just lit a match on bringing Port Huron back," says Jones. "You used to be able to throw a bowling ball down Huron and it wouldn't hit one car. Now, people are complaining about not having enough places to park."

 
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