Pier A Gets an A

IMG_5301THE LAST SURVIVING HISTORIC PIER IN NEW YORK CITY, Pier A at Battery Park in lower Manhattan, was ripe for adaptive re-use. Built in the 1880s, with a clock tower added in 1919 as a World War I memorial, it was used by the city as a fireboat station, then abandoned in 1992. Whereupon it sat vacant for more than two decades, and — though landmarked and on the National Register of Historic Places — fell into disrepair.

Happily, after a long renovation, it’s been reborn as a 28,000-square-foot oyster bar and beer hall, Pier A Harbor House, owned by Peter Poulakakos, who owns 10 other restaurants in downtown Manhattan, including three on Stone Street.

With a gazillion-dollar view of the Harbor, including Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty, perfectly poised to catch the sunsets over New York Harbor, Pier A is an obvious place to bring out-of-town visitors. But it’s also a great spot for locals, with beautifully executed interiors, as my sister and I found out last Sunday. It was fairly quiet on a foggy winter’s day, a month after opening, but seats thousands, including 400 outside, and I can picture next summer’s mob scene. Only the lower level is open at present; the upper level will be a fine-dining restaurant and special-events space.


As I looked around Battery Park and into the Financial District, below, I was heartened to realize the area has actually retained a fair number of old limestone and brick office buildings. It’s not all glass towers yet (or perhaps they were lost in the fog). It seemed like it would be recognizable as lower Manhattan to someone disembarking from a ship here in 1945.


We walked up toward Fulton Street to see Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava’s $4-billion new PATH and subway station at the World Trade Center site. The comb-like roof structure, below, doesn’t look as graceful as the renderings the architect presented a decade ago.


Inside, an impressive oculus, below, will illuminate an indoor shopping mall.


I find myself more excited by the spiffing up of a 19th historic pier than by the madly un-contextual 21st century design of the train station, but I’ll reserve judgement. Over-budget and behind schedule, it’s still incomplete.

Stone Street Secret

I KNOW it’s hard to believe, but I do occasionally leave Brooklyn for that little island across the river.


One of my favorite places for lunch is closed-to-traffic Stone Street in the Financial District, where about a dozen restaurants put tables out on the cobblestones in warm weather.

Deep within the canyon of massive buildings and hard to find (I invariably get lost), the small scale of Stone Street — an intact row of Federal and Greek Revival townhouses, built soon after the Great Fire of 1835 destroyed most of the area — gives it the quality of a well-kept secret. A marvel of architectural survival in the face of unrelenting commercial pressure, the street still retains the curve it had in the mid-17th century, when it was first paved.

Stone Street is a madhouse from noon to 2, so come late, and don’t expect food to be much more than adequate. I like Smorgas Chef, a Scandinavian chain; there are also pubs like Brouwers, Ulysses, and the Stone Street Tavern, and decent pizza at Adrienne’s.

Remember Stone Street (it’s also lively at night) when you have out-of-town visitors; I also like to surprise native New Yorkers who even don’t know it exists.