NYC: 5 Hidden Gems at South Street Seaport

by  Amanda Black | Jun 27, 2013
South Street Seaport, NYC
South Street Seaport, NYC / edichenphoto/iStock

Amid the bustle of Wall Street and the long lines at the 911 Memorial, you'll find something a bit unexpected in downtown NYC. When Hurricane Sandy hit back in 2012, the South Street Seaport was nearly destroyed; shops, restaurants, and the ever-popular NY Water Taxi were all closed for months. It wasn't until recently that the historic Seaport truly came back to life. But this time, it's got a new face – with new and eager shop owners, and some cool finds you probably didn't know existed. Yesterday I took a stroll around  the Financial District and scouted out some of the coolest (and most interesting) spots in the Seaport.

1. New York City's oldest business

Founded in 1775, Bowne & Co., Stationers is NYC's oldest business that has continuously remained under the same name. They originally opened on Pearl Street and for their bicentennial, they moved into their current location on Water Street. Be careful not to pass by this shop; I almost did. Inside, you'll find the stationery printers themselves – Robert Warner has been printing there for 17 years – along with century-old printing presses. The exposed beam ceilings and unfinished walls give the place an old-world look, and Warner says, "We moved here in 1975, but it's meant to look like the building is from 1875." One of the coolest presses I came across while in the shop was the Washington Press (built in 1846). Apparently, this beast of a press would be dismantled into three pieces and then transported to small frontier towns where it would be reassembled to print newspapers.

2. Wildlife

Okay, this might be an over-exaggeration, but I did stumble upon this beautiful budgie parakeet at Smorgasbar (see #5, below). The bright neon yellow and green bird, as it turns out, flew over to the bar one day and the manager caught it and gave it a home. Leslie, one of the bartenders told me they named it Smorgasbird, "We like to think of ourselves as very clever." If you're a dog lover, walk further south along the water and you'll come across the South Street dog park where you can just watch as countless pups play – an instant mood booster!

3. Manhattan's biggest tall ship

Most tourists don't make it past the vast shopping mall or the NY Water Taxi in the Seaport. But you'll be thoroughly rewarded if you do head all the way to the end of the main Pier 17 and turn left - there you'll find Manhattan by Sail. The company docks Clipper City (a 150-foot tall ship with 120-foot sails) there for tourists and locals alike to hop on and enjoy a harbor sail. While you can see the Statue of Liberty on various other boats, seeing it from one of Manhattan's oldest ships adds some ambiance. (In her heyday, Clipper City actually sailed from 1854 to 1892 carrying tea and silk from China to India.) A sales associate on the dock, Polina Pekarskaya told me, "People storm towards the water taxi, but here it's a whole other side to the city and the experience. You can ask the captain to take a spin at the wheel, help the crew put the sails up, or just have a cocktail while just enjoying the view." Rates from $39/adults, $17/kids on 90 minute sails. They also frequently have promotional discounted rates.

4. Green space

When I discovered the East River Waterfront Esplanade on Pier 15 I couldn't believe how uncrowded it was. A few hundred yards south of Pier 17, the green getaway on the edge of the city is still pretty much undiscovered today. Unassuming as you walk by, the space features two floors of outdoor space with grass, flowers, and shrubs. Enjoy fantastic views of the Seaport itself and a good chunk of Brooklyn across the East River. Chairs for lounging spot the decks and a recently opened Watermark restaurant serves up snacks, seafood, and drinks, all with a great view. The lower deck is open from 6am until midnight; the upper deck is open from 8am until dusk.

5. Street markets and pop-up shops

One of the biggest pushes to bring tourists back to the Seaport can be seen in the constantly evolving shop offerings. A complex of pop-up shops rests along the cobblestoned end of Fulton before you hit the Seaport. While not all the store fronts are filled, I did come across a sickeningly sweet candy shop, a bar, and other shops preparing to open. Smorgasbar (from Brooklyn Flea) has brought 10 food stands and two bars to Front Street as well. Everything from fresh-shucked oysters, to local beers, and inventive Mexican food can be found there. On the weekends, head over to the Fulton Stall Market where countless vendors from all over New York set up shop in front of the old Fulton Fish Market and sell everything from food, stationery, drinks, and more. Smorgasbar is open 11am–10pm daily through October. Fulton Stall Market is open Sundays from 11am to 5pm, and select Saturdays.

What's your favorite part of downtown NYC?

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