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Up on the roof: L.A.'s highest hangouts

On the roof of the restaurant – Perch calls it the 16th floor – is an upscale bar with potted trees and patio chairs stationed around portable fire pits. Perch L.A. debuted in 2011 on the 15th-floor roof at Fifth and Hill streets, above Pershing Square. The building's overhaul was extensive: Two stories were added to the structure, with an indoor-outdoor, French-themed restaurant extending onto a wrap-around balcony on the 15th floor, says Perch L.A. office manager Ginger Michele. , COURTESY OF PERCH L.A.

WHO'S LIVING DOWNTOWN

Population: 52,400

Median age: 34

Residential units: 30,600

Median income: $98,700

Employment rate: 90.3 percent

Cool rooftop bar: Ace Hotel

Cool rooftop restaurant: Perch L.A.

Exclusive rooftop: TenTen Wilshire

Since joining a massive wave of new residents invading downtown Los Angeles, Steve Gandel operates on a higher level. Freeway traffic? It’s no longer a bother. He walks to work, a three-block trip that takes 10 minutes – even with a stop for coffee.

His life after hours is even better. Gandel has stepped up to the rooftop scene: the airy, largely secluded and sometimes private realm of pools and parties that exists far above the street.

The city looks more dazzling and dizzying from on high. There’s a sense of being privy to a place beyond the awareness of the masses below. Sounds seem muted: the clink of glasses, the murmur of small-talk. Although car horns and police sirens may echo faintly in the chasms between buildings, the only harsh noises are the intermittent roars of patrolling helicopters.

The moon sweeps overhead. Air moves in gusts and eddies.

Gandel, a 34-year-old project engineer who works for a general contractor, likes to relax by leaving his 11th-floor apartment, which overlooks the city, and savoring a cold beverage on the building’s 12th-story roof – either in the Jacuzzi or reclining and taking in the spectacular views from the deck.

Occasionally, Gandel strolls a few blocks to The Rooftop at The Standard, a trendy bar atop a hotel on Flower Street, where he sips with friends in a milieu that is both urban and other-worldly. The 12th-floor vantage point is high enough to see cars and pedestrians for blocks, and yet the rooftop bar is encircled by other, even-taller spires, including the 73-story U.S. Bank Tower.

Especially at night, when The Standard’s rectangular rooftop pool glows an opalescent blue, the scene is a cubist wonderland. Lighted windows create checkerboard patterns on neighboring skyscrapers, casting an eerie sort of starlight down on couples drinking on square outdoor couches, some clustered around a low-slung fireplace.

“It’s different. It’s kind of a novelty being more than four or five stories off the ground,” says Gandel, who moved from North Hollywood a year ago, as he tries to explain why he loves hanging out on rooftops. “In a metaphorical way, it’s kind of nice to be above everything. I enjoy the skyline a great deal.”

The upside of downtown

Across Los Angeles’ ragged skyline, resurgent again in a post-recessionary boom, rooftop gathering places dot the landscape like so many eagles’ nests.

The bar at The Standard, which opened in 2002, was one of the first of a small number of downtown rooftop venues that are open to the public. Private rooftop spaces – aimed at drawing tenants to a broad inventory of residential buildings – have proliferated both in new parts of the city core near the financial district and along streets such as Main and Broadway, where historic older buildings are being renovated.

Downtown’s full-time residential population has climbed from about 18,000 in 1999 – when a conspicuous number lived in tents and rescue missions – to almost 53,000 today, according to figures provided by Carol Schatz, president and CEO of the Downtown Center Business Improvement District, a nonprofit organization of property owners.

Many are younger professionals such as Larry Kimaara, 37, who lived in Anaheim and Brea before moving to Bunker Hill two years ago. Decked out in a suit and cradling a drink as he leans against a rooftop railing at Perch L.A., a bar overlooking Pershing Square, Kimaara boasts of being able to walk to anything he needs, including movie theaters and grocery stores. He finds it difficult to choose among rooftop watering holes – The Standard, Perch L.A. and the bar atop the Ace Hotel “are all favorites of mine,” he says – and says he especially enjoys seeking out rooftop places when the city gleams at night.

“The higher the better,” he says.

With so many people looking for places to relax and have fun, and with real-estate values peaking again, the roof is no longer to be squandered on vents and air-conditioning machinery. Landlords are going through often-cumbersome city approval processes to put in pools, patios, barbecue grills, gyms, even dog runs and vegetable gardens.

“L.A. has a beautiful skyline, so why not enjoy it?” says Eric Shomof of Pacific Investment Group, which is preparing to construct a 35-story residential tower at Fourth Street and Broadway. The dual-level design calls for two rooftops, including a 10th-floor outdoor deck with a swimming pool, Shomof says.

Having a usable rooftop is extremely important, Shomof says. It’s a place where people in a densely packed community can step out for fresh air, he says. “It’s an area where you can sit down and read a book. It’s almost like a backyard that people don’t have. People love it, and they’re demanding it.”

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