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The classic Pontchartrain Hotel plays host to one of New Orleans' cool new rooftop bars

Drinks poolside are a hit among locals at the Alto during the sweltering summertime

New Orleans CNN  — 

As New Orleans steadies itself for Carnival season’s final bacchanal, Fat Tuesday, an estimated 1 million visitors will fall upon the city, nearly tripling its actual populace. Fun? No doubt. Debauched? You got ‘dat right.

Claustrophobic? Jarring? Maddening? For many, the experience down on the ground in the boozy thick of it – particularly the French Quarter and its infamous Bourbon Street – can prove daunting. A retreat for a breather is needed.

If you want to be above it all, as it were, while still experiencing the sensory overload at a distance, New Orleans now provides more than a dozen rooftop bars and lounges.

The majority of them have opened in just the past year on hotel rooftops of distinction, each providing its own singularly awe-inducing view and local color.

A few favorites:

Hot Tin at the Pontchartrain Hotel

For locals, the most anticipated venue to open outside the Vieux Carre fray has been the Pontchartrain Hotel, the circa-1927 Garden District gem, which underwent a $10 million renovation, while recruiting James Beard Award-winning chef John Besh to revive and modernize its classic Bayou Bar and fine dining Caribbean Room.

But the real draw has been the rooftop bar and lounge Hot Tin – the name a nod to onetime hotel resident Tennessee Williams – which is open to the public, featuring a separate elevator to transport locals and visitors up to the 14th floor.

At sunset it’s a full-on after-work party. Truman Capote, once a Pontchartrain regular, would have approved. While the enclosed main room packs in a dressy set, romantics nab a Sazerac and go directly to the outdoor fringes, which provide sweeping views of the Mississippi River and the New Orleans Saints’ illuminated Superdome.

Even from this perch, you can hear the music and revelers a mile away. For a more intimate experience, there’s a smaller balcony in a back corner where onlookers can gaze upon the Uptown skyline.

Located directly on the city’s most cinematic and expansive streetcar line, during Carnival season some of the most established and fantastical krewe flotillas and parades overtake St. Charles Avenue at night, making for photo-op eye candy only seen in New Orleans.

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Hot Tin's enclosed main room opens onto rooftop terraces with views of New Orleans.

Alto at the Ace Hotel New Orleans

Farther downtown in the city’s Warehouse District, blocks from the French Quarter, the Ace Hotel’s rooftop bar and grill Alto has similarly become a local-favored destination, albeit a younger crowd seeking in the warmer months a place to get some tan lines while sipping a frozen Mai Tai in the swimming pool.

Like the Pontchartrain, the Ace rooftop is open to the public (non-guests must spend $20 on food or drink for admittance). Many of the young entrepreneurs who reside or work in the area bring their bathing suits to work for a quick swim at lunch or during happy hour up on the hotel’s ninth floor.

The sightseeing is quite nearly panoramic, with alternating views of the Lower Garden District and Central Business District. At the reasonable height of nine stories, visitors are in the thick of it while out of harm’s way.

The small bites are standout, but our favorite is the grilled hotdogs served on potato buns, chased with a frozen Blue Hawaii.

On the street level, there’s a laurelled Italian osteria, Josephine Estelle, and a recently opened all-American Oyster bar, Seaworthy, situated in a weathered 19th century cottage. And the streetcar line heading into the French Quarter is directly outside the door. Clang-clang.

Pool? Check. Frosty drinks? Check. Alto at the Ace Hotel has everything you'd want in a rooftop.

Rooftop bar at the Catahoula Hotel

The spring 2016-opened Catahoula Hotel – 35 rooms in a restored circa-1840s Creole townhouse and stable in the Central Business District – is a hideaway embodied.

It’s a best-kept secret already with locals and seasoned travelers, particularly when it comes to its third-floor rooftop terrace, pool and bona fide tiki bar, featuring an estimable drink menu of frozen old-school Peruvian-inspired concoctions and spiked smoothies.

The wood-planked rooftop atmosphere is transportive. You may not be way above it all, but there’s an element of intimacy and character in direct counterpoint to the area’s office building complexes.

Below, the checkerboard-floored Pisco Bar has quickly drawn national attention – including a Bon Appetit seal of approval – for its fresh Peruvian cuisine and purist grape-infused cocktails the bar takes its name from.

The third-floor terrace at the Catahoula Hotel provides an element of intimacy amid office buildings.

Monkey Board at The Troubadour hotel

The most recent addition to New Orleans’ rooftop scene, The Troubadour hotel opened in late December in the city’s Central Business District corridor, blocks from the Superdome and Quarter on an unassuming side street.

Its breezy 17th floor bar and restaurant, Monkey Board, features alternating food truck fare such as lobster dogs and fried chicken sandwiches. Most patrons sit at the streamlined open-air bar.

Chef Phillip Lopez, who oversees both the rooftop spot and the second-floor Petit Lion French bistro, is one of the most recognized local chefs. The boutique chain hotel is obviously aspiring to give respect to the city’s tastes and heritage, despite its maxi-minimalist design scheme.

Monkey Board, the name for the highest platform on an oil rig, has a nighttime party scene hosted by local DJs. The view takes in its surroundings among the other high-rises, and you can whiff the river and hear the foghorns in the lofty breeze.

Monkey Board is The Troubadour hotel's breezy 17th floor bar and restaurant.

New Orleans resident Steve Garbarino is a Vanity Fair contributing editor and cocktail culture author.