Amazing Hotel Penthouses

No matter the locale, “penthouse" is a universal word for fabulous.

Courtesy Baglioni Hotel Regina
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Is there anything more alluring than an elevator button marked “PH”? As the hotel’s showpiece, the penthouse packs more “wow” and attracts more boldface guests than any other room. It’s also the room to book for bespoke amenities and impressive extras—the least of which is the view.

It hasn’t always been this way. Before the elevator was invented, top floors were relegated to servants. Then industrialist Elisha Otis debuted his lift in 1852, and everything changed. By the Roaring Twenties, skylines were shooting up on both coasts, and tycoons realized that the hottest real estate was up in the air. They began commissioning rooftop residences, and the penthouse was born.

American Trust Company president John S. Drum was among the first to see the appeal of living within a hotel, commissioning a penthouse in San Francisco’s historic Fairmont. Architect Arthur Upham Pope completed it, and Drum leased it for $1,000 per month. The Fairmont’s groundbreaking penthouse remains as opulent and impressive as ever, but much has changed industry-wide. Hotels go head-to-head each year to out-luxe the competition. A private entrance was once considered a nice touch; now it’s required. Butler service is the order of the day. Frette linens? De rigueur.

The most enticing new development in the penthouse craze is its global expansion. From Istanbul to Cape Town and back again, travelers are never too far from a terrace of their own. For the best in luxury travel, you need only look up. —Marnie Hanel