LB Skybar Adds Lofty Level to the Lord Baltimore
Historic hotel's recent addition of a rooftop venue propels it into the future.
Built in 1928, the 440-room Lord Baltimore Hotel in Baltimore, Maryland, was the largest in Maryland at the time, and still carries cultural weight with Charm City residents. The initial F&B program featured a bar and restaurant, and that template didn’t change much until 2015, when the property opened LB Skybar on its 19th-floor rooftop as part of a hotel-wide renovation.
“The roof wasn’t used for anything prior to that,” says GM Onahlea Shimunek. “We saw it as a true asset and opportunity to do something different in the city. It’s generated a lot of buzz for the hotel, and functions as a destination for locals and in-house guests, as well as a prime space for group events of all sizes.”
LB Skybar has a capacity of 150 people on a busy night, and surprisingly, given the established cityscape of downtown Baltimore, was one of the first rooftop bars to open there, although others have followed in its wake, like Bygone at Four Seasons Hotel Baltimore and Topside at Hotel Revival.
“There are a few other rooftop restaurant/bar spaces in the city, but they’re all enclosed, so they have great views, but ours is primarily outdoors, which makes it special,” says Sandy Lawler, director of F&B operations and development at the hotel.
Also special are the year-over-year F&B sales at LB Skybar. Measuring its first two years of continuous operation from July 2016 to July 2018, sales grew approximately 70%. Along the way the space has grown as well, and here, Shimunek and Lawler detail the transformation behind LB Skybar’s rapid rise.
When LB Skybar opened, the bar was mobile and outdoors. However, it would have to close during inclement weather, so this year, “we created a permanent indoor bar space up there, so when you enter Skybar, to the left there’s a casual lounge seating area and a big U-shaped bar with beautiful flooring. Then there’s a glass door that lets you out to the patio with cabanas and a variety of comfortable seating. It’s given us a year-round space now, and people have noticed we’re not closed anymore if the weather is bad,” says Shimunek.
The indoor space allows LB Skybar to host group gatherings any time of year, whether they’re office parties, weddings, or corporate events, comprising about 30% of LB Skybar’s business, with most happening while it’s open to regular customers. Full buyouts are an option, but Shimunek says, “We have to give ample notice to our regulars through social media and flyers in the bar ahead of time. We don’t want anyone to show up without that knowledge and be turned away by a one-night event.”
A wide-range of people mix and mingle at LB Skybar Tuesday through Sunday (it’s closed on Monday), with a 50% split between hotel guests and locals 25-and-up living and/or working in downtown Baltimore.
“Because LB Skybar is open outside, it’s a unique experience in the city and draws a lot of curious customers. It’s similar to sitting on somebody’s deck, but you have the whole urban skyline within view, you can see Camden Yards (home of MLB’s Baltimore Orioles) and M&T Bank Stadium (home of the NFL’s Baltimore Ravens) you can see the water, and it has excellent western exposure to watch a sunset. You can’t have that open-air experience anywhere else 19 floors up in Baltimore,” Lawler says.
To reach LB Skybar, customers can choose from five elevators in the lobby that go to the 19th floor. Only those staying at Lord Baltimore can stop on guestroom floors, since they’re only accessible with a room key activated in the elevator.
F&B sales at LB Skybar are 30% and 70%, respectively, and the core culinary focus is on simple items, easy to prepare from LB Skybar’s small-but-efficient kitchen. “It began as a limited menu, so we have grilled items like baby back ribs, burgers, street tacos with choice of chicken, beef, or fish, and more. We make our food in-house and buy local products whenever possible,” Lawler says.
New additions to the menu include proven sellers that can be transferred from the hotel’s menus downstairs at LB Tavern and LB Bakery and executed upstairs as specials, such as fried green tomatoes, house-made charcuterie, and a selection of from-scratch desserts.
Shimunek says the top-selling food item is LB Skybar’s signature Ripper hot dog. “It’s a scored and fried all-beef frankfurter with choice of toppings on a fresh lobster roll bun. They’re so popular, we sell Ripper hot dog T-shirts at LB Skybar too.”
Changes to the beverage program coincided with the new indoor bar, featuring labor-saving batch cocktails on tap that are created at LB Skybar, along with wine on tap, and Baltimore craft beer on tap and in bottles and cans. Some of the top-selling batch cocktails this summer were house-made sangria, the Summer Rita margarita, and a frozen bourbon slushy.
“I was concerned about batch cocktails and wine on tap until I actually saw how it works,” remembers Shimunek. “It makes a lot of sense from a cost and labor standpoint when you’re doing high-volume. We frequently have more than 100 guests up there when business is really cranking.” Staffing on a busy night includes two bartenders, three servers, and a cook.
Shimunek adds that 32-ounce buckets of cocktails (poured right into a souvenir bucket and served with a decorative straw) and traditional buckets of beer (multiple cans or bottles on ice presented in a metal bucket) are another hit at LB Skybar. The idea originated from Shimunek’s boating experiences. “We go to a lot of boat bars where buckets are popular,” she says. “They’re fun and there’s perceived value in them. When our beverage distributor mentioned we should try buckets on the roof, I was already familiar with the concept so we went with it, and they sell hotter than anything else we have up there.”
The Lord Baltimore Hotel waited 87 years to open its roof and reap an additional F&B revenue stream. Based on its current success, the sky’s the limit for LB Skybar’s upward trajectory in menu sales.
“The beverage growth year-over-year has been solid, but the big surprise after looking at last year’s P&L was the huge growth in food sales,” says Shimunek. “People are coming up here looking for really good food to pair with our cocktails, craft beer, and wine. They found it, and they keep coming back, and they tell others about it too, so that’s been amazing.”