2020: What a year to open a rooftop eatery (but it worked)

Despite the obstacles and late start to the season, Skydeck and Nick's Chophouse owners can't wait to see what 2021 brings

Mike Murphy
Peter and Nick Fabbio are on top of Canandaigua as the season winds down at the Skydeck, on the rooftop over their Nick's Chophouse restaurant at Main and Beeman streets downtown.

CANANDAIGUA — For a place with a tropical vibe, the Skydeck is experiencing less of an endless summer and more like the feeling we all have about now, “It’s almost October, already?”

Then again, that the eatery on the rooftop of Nick’s Chophouse, four stories above downtown’s Main and Beeman streets, opened at all this summer season given all the freaky things that happened the last few months is nearly remarkable.

Actually, Nick Fabbio, who with his building-owner father Peter Fabbio, runs the place, feels the word “blessed” works much better.

Just a year ago, the Fabbios and other workers were squirming through tight crawl spaces to get to the roof to prepare for a spring 2020 opening. The sign on their downstairs window announced the planned opening for all to see and anxiously await.

Oh, someone had to mention 2020.

Yes, the hope was to have the Skydeck ready for a grand opening in May. But the elevator taking guests to the top was delayed, among other headaches — or as Peter Fabbio called them, “unexpected occurrences, over and over.”

Then, the COVID-19 pandemic hit, closing restaurants and bars except for takeout and curbside services. And spring turned to late July, when the Skydeck finally opened, with customers early on climbing the outside stairs to reach the top. Making sure customers were wearing face masks became as important to the operation as knowing the difference between medium rare and well done.

With each tweak of the pandemic guidelines came yet another change in plans for the Skydeck, as the Fabbios were planning to open the upstairs this year and just serve drinks, just to ease into how things work.

“A few days before we were planning on opening, the guidelines came down that we had to do food and drinks,” Nick Fabbio said. “We had to figure out something real quick.”

So, why blessed? Business soared during a time when many establishments across New York were struggling. Having an outside dining option certainly helped with a stir-crazy clientele eager to be in the sun or underneath the stars on a warm summer night.

And frankly, this was something new to experience.

Sure, they would have liked to have more of a season, but it’s been an interesting year for the Fabbios — and at least they had a season, short as it was.

On a recent sunny September evening, the sun is still hot but a strong breeze — when you’re on the rooftop, whatever the weather conditions down below are amplified up high — cools the air to a comfortable level. Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds” playing — remember, the tropical vibe — and the reggae star’s apt lyrics, “Don’t worry, about a thing, because everything’s going to be alright.”

“It didn’t work out the way we thought, but you know what, in a sense it’s a blessing,” Nick Fabbio said. “We’ve been very blessed and fortunate to have this. Where a lot of establishments might be struggling in the state and country, we’ve just been blessed.”

Steve and Denise Sinshauser heard about the rooftop plan over the winter and finally were able to stop in — or up, as it were.

They’ll get a lot of people, especially when the COVID stuff is over, remarked Denise, who coincidentally, owns the Skyline Trading Post family restaurant in Penn Yan.

On nice nights, the SkyView has been busy. Frozen tropical drinks such as the Sky Deck, their take on the blue Hawaiian cocktail, were popular all summer long, and the Skydeck burger for many was a must try.

The upstairs seats a maximum of 120 people, including dining and bar areas, although pandemic restrictions made sure the number was much lower.

Still, Peter Fabbio said business more than doubled from the same time last year, with the rooftop driving more people downstairs, where diners could enjoy the eatery’s traditional steaks and seafood menu inside, in socially distanced fashion.

And as the nice weather soon becomes a memory, the Fabbios are already thinking 2021 — and what they hope is a pandemic-free year.

The upstairs menu was typical pub fare; in addition to burgers, customers could order sandwiches, wraps, wings and pizza.

“It should be a gangbusters year for us,” he said.

All along, people had been asking, what’s so good about a rooftop, what’s so significant about being on a roof? Nick Fabbio would just tell them, just wait until you get up there. You’ll understand.

“You can’t really put a word on it,” he said. “It’s unique.” 

Steve Sinshauser gave his own lofty spin.

“It’s a perfect place,” he said.

Eat, Drink and Be Murphy

The Eat, Drink and Be Murphy column explores the region’s bounty of food and drink — and the people who bring it to you — soup to nuts, accentuated with a craft beer or Finger Lakes wine. After all, who doesn’t love to eat and drink? Email assistant editor Mike Murphy at mmurphy@messengerpostmedia.com or call 585-337-4229 with ideas and suggestions.

Here's one of the views of Canandaigua's Main Street that customers in the Skyview's dining area can experience.