Rooftop Bar of the Year: PHD Terrace at Dream Midtown

"It was all a dream." Image: Edward Menashy

Stunning views, a highly designed multi-story space in Midtown Manhattan, and dedication to the guest experience define PHD Terrace.

The 2020 Nightclub & Bar Award winner for Rooftop Bar of the Year sits proudly atop Dream Midtown, reflecting Manhattan style and luxury.

This TAO Group property offers guests spectacular panoramic views that include the iconic Times Square.

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We spoke with general manager Julian Wrede for insights into what sets PHD Terrace apart in the incredibly competitive market that is New York City.

Elite Operations

Wrede intended to pursue a career in finance, setting his sights on Wall Street as a trader or investment banker. He double-majored in finance and business management at NYU and did spend a few months on Wall Street before the hospitality industry called to him.

PHD Terrace’s GM is “a huge fan of the social dynamics, and the overall energy, the vibes” of the industry. Wrede enjoys food and beverage creation, engaging with guests, and being a part of the NYC hospitality family of which he was a member while attending university.

“And so, it just drew me back in after a few months of trading where I really knew that, aside from looking at six screens over the next 30 years of a career, I really needed to be around people,” says Wrede. “And for me it made much more of a difference to actually make the small differences in people's lives every day as opposed to moving money from one account into another over a long career.”

He started his career in bar and restaurant management in independently owned properties located in NYC. In 2014, Wrede started working for TAO Group, taking on an entry level position as F&B manager for Bodega Negra at Dream Downtown.

By January 2017, Wrede had been promoted to general manager of all F&B outlets at Dream Midtown.

“A big initial challenge and fun project was for us to figure out our identity as a building, as a new building,” says Wrede.

PHD Terrace flower tunnel at Dream Midtown
The famous PHD Terrace flower tunnel. Image: Michael Kleinberg

A major element in communicating their identity, not just for PHD Terrace but for Dream Midtown as a whole, is an emphasis on seasonal pop-up installations, including a flower tunnel made so famous on social media that they acknowledge it out on their website. The east and west terraces of PHD Terrace are transformed for the winter—“whimsical dream lands”—and summer—“floor wall installations with seasonal cocktails”—and so is the entire hotel property.

The guest experience starts from the sidewalk. Considering that the venue is located in NYC, it’s no surprise that the building it crowns has its own identity, one broadcast to anyone who comes near it. Installations that transform PHD Terrace are carried through to an exterior door of Dream Midtown, along with the lobby, pulling all design and promotions threads tighter. The effect makes PHD Terrace an experiential and F&B destination for regulars, after-work professionals in the area, Tristate locals, and tourists alike.

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In other words, Wrede and his team’s attention to the minutiae widens the net they cast to capture guests. That’s part of what identifies an operation as elite, the operators as thought leaders, and a venue as an award winner.

Atmosphere

One challenge that I didn’t discuss with Wrede is how he, his team and TAO Group avoided one obstacle in particular. It’s not unfair to say that some people may take a look at PHD Terrace’s location, design and ownership and assume an air of pretention.

We didn’t discuss that assumption for one simple reason: it became evident during our conversation that Wrede and the PHD Terrace team don’t operate it that way.

PHD Terrace rooftop at Dream Midtown during the day
Image: Eric Cunningham

The venue is beautiful but at the end of the day, the guest experience is meant to offer professionals and tourists in the area an escape from the nonstop hustle of the city it watches over. PHD Terrace, for all its luxurious details and glam, is fun and focused on attracting groups of guests to socialize, mingle and blow off steam.

“We really focus predominantly on what the community is yearning for us as a venue to be, and that is a high-end tropical escape from the corporate neighboring buildings during the afterward times where guests can enjoy fun, bright, refreshing food, the beverage offerings that are easily sharable as groups, or a high-end cocktail, or a nice, refreshing spritz cocktail during the summer after work,” explains Wrede. The fact that it’s also a high-end bar option for guests doubtlessly boosts traffic and revenue.

An F&B Destination

Of course, attracting regulars means giving them a reason to make repeated visits. PHD Terrace accomplishes this with seasonal F&B offerings, but they take it a step further. I’ll get into how in a moment. First, I want to share some of their promotions.

“Aperitivo Tuesday happens every Tuesday throughout the year where from about six to 10 o'clock we offer a very cool, very approachable Italian cocktail menu with spritzes and different Italian classics,” Wrede explains.

Aperitivo Tuesdays Positano Edition at PHD Terrace at Dream Midtown
Aperitivo Tuesdays, Positano Edition. Image: Keri Tan

Accompanying the Italian cocktails and wine are complimentary seletions of meats, cheeses, fruits and crudité. There’s also a full wheel of 18-month aged Parmigiano Reggiano manned by a team member at one of PHD Terrace’s tables. Bites are shaved off the wheel and offered with a pick to guests.

As delicious as that all is, when guests get to used to something—even when it’s free of charge—they can become jaded. A small but smart move by the PHD Terrace team is to offer different passed hors d'oeuvres for two hours every Tuesday, keeping things fresh.

“This could be a seasonal risotto. This could be a beautiful slice of cucumber with different fresh selected seafoods that are seasonal,” says Wrede. “That is offered complimentary as well, from six to eight o'clock, so for two hours every Tuesday. So, we have a lot of different moments to drive traffic and give our guests a reason to come on a Tuesday after work.”

Food is always looked at by Wrede and his team as more than just a way to increase how long guests stay at PHD Terrace—food is a moment, an opportunity to elevate the guest experience in one bite.

“Foodwise, we have tried to really give guests a beautiful food moment where it feels less like you're eating or your ordering food in order to eat, but much more of an activity where there's small shareable plates, they're beautifully executed, they're beautifully plated,” says Wrede. “They are ingredient-forward where the freshness and the actual quality of the ingredients speaks for the actual product, we don't have steak skewers—our skewers are made with a filet mignon. We have our beef sliders, quote-unquote, that are made with a very high-end Wagyu beef and a homemade bacon jam. We really try to focus on making all of our ingredients in house.”

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Not only do Aperitivo Tuesdays provide guests with a reason to come back, it prevents PHD Terrace from discounting their beverages. Rather than offer a traditional happy hour, the venue delivers a happy hour-like event by providing free small bites of food. Drinks remain at full price, guests can create small plates for themselves, and for at least two hours they’re not thinking about leaving since food is on hand to keep at the bar ordering cocktails or wine. For some venues, discounts devalue the perception of the brand and its F&B—not the case at PHD Terrace.

A Step Further

As I mentioned in the section above, PHD Terrace converts guests into regulars by going the extra mile. And that mile is very, very extra.

The venue transforms the drinking occasion into a group activity with creative large-format cocktails. At the end of January this year, National Hot Chocolate Day, for example, PHD Terrace created a shareable specialty drink available throughout February.

PHD Terrace at Dream Midtown west terrace at night
PHD's west terrace. Image: Michael Kleinberg

“Last year we did a 20-pound hot chocolate. This year we did a 15-pound flaming red velvet spiked hot cocoa which was a real hit so far,” Wrede says. “It has a really cool service element where there are customized marshmallows that are placed on top of this 15-pound hot cocoa that are then flambeed tableside, which gives it a really cool little flame at the table for a wow moment. It's a really cool element for a group to enjoy, and that's where we found a lot of our success for some after-work groups, for late-night guests, for guests opting for bottle service or just people coming on a Sunday as soon as we open in the afternoon.”

That special, large-format hot cocoa is an extension of what has become a successful signature program: PHD Terrace Mega Mules. These massive Moscow Mule variations are a huge hit and bring the entire team together, from culinary to service to marketing.

“Last year, we had an Orange Blossom Mega Mule with a beautiful white chocolate gummy bear ball on top with rock candy and an orange foam that we made in house,” says Wrede. “A really, really delicious, very beautiful creation that our culinary team, our beverage team, our ops team, and our marketing team came together on, and it was a great success.”

Shareable menus, as we discussed just a few months ago, are a smart way to attract groups and elevate their experience. And PHD Terrace’s Mega Mules and other large-format drink creations take the wow factor above and beyond. The sizes of these drinks require sharing and demand to be photographed and posted, serving as marketing tools.

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But there’s another reason I think these large-format cocktails work so well. It may seem like a small detail but as I’ve established, there are no “small” details to Wrede and the PHD Terrace team when it comes to delivering incredible service and an unforgettable guest experience: The Mega Mules are described in pounds, not ounces. Rather than a 230-ounce drink, it’s 15 pounds on the menu. Instead of 306 ounces, it’s 20 pounds. There’s no doubt in my mind that PHD Terrace guests see a drink weighing in at over ten pounds and are motivated to order one.

A Worthy Winner

What Wrede and his team execute is a phenomenal guest experience that starts before guests ever enter PHD Terrace. Every element and moment is elevated with very little given over to chance. Team members and management come together to understand their guests’ needs—including how they want to use the space—and deliver an unrivaled guest experience that keeps them coming back for more and more.

Do you want more? Nightclub & Bar Show 2020 conference programming is packed with speakers and sessions that will help you elevate your F&B, guest experience and teams. Derek Brown of the Columbia Room is presenting “Creating Immersive Bar Experiences,” Kelley Jones is addressing how “Service in America Still Sucks,” and David Nitzel is talking about “Creating Scalable Leadership in Your Business.” Michael Tipps, Homan Taghdiri of Invictus Hospitality are hosting “The Jedi Perspective & Controlling the Domino Effect,” Mark Alan Diaz, design director of Invictus Hospitality, is presenting “Design Challenges: New Building or Second-Generation,” and Laura Newman, the first woman to ever win the U.S. Bartenders Guild World Class competition, and Larry Townley will share “A New Perk-spective: How to Halt Attrition & Maximize Profits.” Register today and add these sessions to your schedule!

Resources

PHD Terrace website

PHD Terrace Instagram

PHD Terrace Facebook

PHD Terrace Twitter

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