The Seaport has endured its share of ups and downs, but the storied neighborhood has revealed a fresh face in recent years, offering new hotels, world-class dining, and a reimagined Pier 17.
One of New York’s oldest areas, the Seaport is often considered where the city began. As a commercial shipping hub in the 18th and 19th centuries, the neighborhood was fundamental in establishing New York City’s booming economy. Defined by charming streets, period architecture, and docked ships, this designated historic district reflects the city’s seafaring roots, presenting the most extensive collection of restored maritime buildings in New York.
Often still referred to as the “South Street Seaport,” the neighborhood suffered the tragic aftereffects of September 11, 2001, and was battered by Hurricane Sandy in 2012. The superstorm inflicted severe flooding, damaging many buildings and causing businesses to shutter or relocate. But after a decade of rebuilding and with more development on the horizon, the Seaport is amidst a renaissance. While this well-preserved area wedged between the East River, Pearl Street, John Street, and the Brooklyn Bridge has long lured scores of tourists, it now appeals to locals as well. These days, the destination is a microcosm of New York: energetic, ever-evolving, and exciting.
Things to Do
One of the main reasons to visit the Seaport is the historic district. One could meander around the 11-block stretch of cobbled lanes leading to a fleet of majestic ships docked in the harbor, reveling in panoramic views of the waterfront and Brooklyn across the river. That in itself is captivating.
But it’s impossible to miss Pier 17 (89 South St). Demolished after superstorm Sandy, the pier was completely reimagined, with a re-debut in 2018. This seaside mall houses a handful of restaurants, a rooftop, and the repurposed Tin Building: the Jean-Georges Vongerichten food hall that was once the Fulton Fish Market. A surrounding sun-filled boardwalk is perfect for strolling, relaxing, and taking photos.
Just east of Pier 17, Manhattan by Sail (89 South Street) organizes daily water excursions on Clipper City. On the Sunset Wine & Jazz Cruise, stars, music, and the city skyline converge, and the Daytime Cruise is an all-age ride promising an up-close look at several bridges, the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, and Governors Island.
To appreciate all the Seaport was and is today, visit the South Street Seaport Museum (12 Fulton St). Tracing New York as a port city, this multi-site museum spotlights an extensive collection of more than 28,000 artworks and artifacts and over 55,000 historical records, as well as Bowne & Co. on Water Street––a gift shop and printing press dating to 1775––and a fleet of ships on Pier 16. In addition to perusing the exhibitions and shop, travelers can experience the 1885 Tall Ship Wavertree, 1908 Lightship Ambrose, 1930 Tugboat W.O. Decker (returning in 2023), and 1885 Schooner Pioneer, a National Register-listed vessel available for sails.
On a walk through the neighborhood, take note of The Schermerhorn Row Block (12 Fulton Street). In this row of brick counting houses, #2 through #18 were built in the Federal style from 1811 to 1812. Now a parade of storefronts, including Funny Face Bakery, McNally Jackson Books, and the South Street Seaport Museum, the buildings have been New York City landmarks since 1968, and the block has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1971.
Formerly a Best Western, Mr. C Seaport (33 Peck Slip) is the brainchild of Cipriani––the hospitality giant and owner of Harry’s Bar in Venice––and reflects the period of the neighborhood on its exterior, but the inside stuns with swanky details. Accommodations provide all the creature comforts ranging from luxurious teak veneer furnishings to spa-inspired rain showers, with rooms facing the water showcasing sensational views. At the hotel restaurant and bar, Bellini, bartenders craft the eponymous Prosecco and white peach purée cocktail, the libation originating in Venice in 1948.
AC Hotel New York Downtown (151 Maiden Ln) has a cosmopolitan vibe––think slick, contemporary furnishings, neutral colors, and local art. Like most New York hotels, the rooms are on the small side, but they’re well-planned, and Marriott’s dreamy, cloud-like beds and pillows make up for the lack of square footage. Steps from Pier 17, this property sits in an ideal location: a stroll from all the Seaport’s restaurants and attractions.
A short walk outside the Seaport district, Gild Hall (15 Gold St) strikes a different chord than most city hotels. Barn doors, painted brick, comfy leather sofas, and vintage photos mark the rugged yet fashionable design. The 130 guest rooms and suites come with handsome, oversized headboards, designer wallpaper, 400-thread count Sferra linens, and luxe Frette robes. Off the reception area, the on-site restaurant––Felice––plates Italian classics like Tonnarelli cacio e pepe, arguably one of the best versions in town.
Eat & Drink
Pier 17 brings several upscale restaurants and drinking dens to the district, some by iconic restaurateurs. One is celebrity chef David Chang’s Momofuku Ssäm Bar (89 South St, Pier 17), which relocated to the pier in 2021 after 15 years of shaping the culinary scene in the East Village. With chef Eunjo Park helming the kitchen, the bi-level, Korean-inspired eatery features two experiences. In the second-floor dining room, chefs grill whole prawns, Heritage pork shoulder, and Imperial American Wagyu ribeye tableside. Meanwhile, an abbreviated, more casual offering highlights oysters, pork belly buns, and whole roasted fish on the first level’s bar and terrace. In addition to beer, wine, and cocktails, Ssäm Bar serves sake and soju, a Korean distilled spirit traditionally crafted from rice.
Also on the pier, Dante (89 South St, Pier 17) has deep roots in New York, beginning with its first outpost in Greenwich Village in 1915. The legendary bar is renowned for excellent martinis, Aperol spritzes, and negronis, with aperitivo snacks available to munch while sipping. From Monday through Friday, the lounge features $10 negroni sessions, with bartenders pouring a variety of the Italian libation. Quaff a Dante’s Negroni (Roku gin, Campari, Martini & Rossi vermouth) before switching to the Cardinale (Sipsmith gin, Contratto bitter, Lo-fi dry vermouth).
If there’s one tavern quintessential to the Seaport, it’s The Paris Café (119 South St, Peck Slip). Under 11 feet of water due to Hurricane Sandy in 2012, the celebrated pub was restored and revitalized nearly one year after the storm. While Covid caused the bar to close again in 2020, with a rumor that it would be permanent this time, that didn’t happen. The building’s longtime owner, Emilio Barletta, reintroduced the café in 2022, keeping the same beautiful Victorian bar and 1873 detailing. Beyond its landmark status, The Paris Café is a local’s haunt, attracting neighborhood folks for strong drinks and delicious eats like the American in Paris burger, linguine with clams, and the fan favorite: marinated lemon half chicken, plated with fried fingerling potatoes.
For casual eats like artichoke dip and hot eggplant sandwiches alongside some of New York’s finest craft brews, head to Fresh Salt (146 Beekman). The bar is named after the faded ad reading “Fresh, Salt, and Smoked Fish,” painted on the front of the 1885 smokehouse building. Hurricane Sandy also decimated Fresh Salt, but friends, relatives, and regulars joined forces in a crowdfunding campaign to help reconstruct the pub. And like the Seaport, the bar gained a new lease on life.