Open-air cafe proposed along the East River in historic South Street Seaport

July 15, 2020

View from John Street Rendering courtesy of Woods Bagot/ NYC Parks

An open-air waterfront restaurant and bar could be coming to the South Street Seaport Historic District. The Howard Hughes Corporation and the city’s Parks Department on Tuesday presented a proposal to the Landmarks Preservation Commission for a new concession along the East River Esplanade under the FDR Drive overpass. Designed by Woods Bagot, the “Blockhouse Bar” would be a year-round establishment, with plans to add decking over the pavement, planters, and vinyl coverings during the winter months.

View south from esplanade; Rendering courtesy of Woods Bagot/ NYC Parks

The site of the proposed bar sits on the city-owned and operated East River Esplanade, where John Street meets the waterfront and within the South Street Seaport Historic District. The proposal from Howard Hughes and Woods Bagot was selected through a competitive bid process, according to the city. The estimated cost of the project is $650,000.

The Blockhouse Bar can seat 100 people in a variety of seating arrangments, including banquettes, cafe-style tables, and bar seating. A shell awning covering will enclose the space during the winter months. Alcoholic beverages and a menu with a focus on pizza and a raw bar will be offered, according to the proposal.

Top: Enclosed bar during the colder months; Bottom: View inside bar facing onto East River Esplanade; Renderings courtesy of Woods Bagot/ NYC Parks

“Located between land and sea, the bar is to be a popular year-round gathering space. where New Yorkers and tourists can unwind while taking in stunning views of the East River,” the presentation reads.

David Brown, principal at Woods Bagot, said the firm looked at the neighborhood context for materiality and was inspired by the nearby ships, the red brick masonry of the surrounding buildings, and wooden piers.

Most of the public testimony and questions from LPC commissioners expressed concern over the restaurant possibly blocking views of the historic waterfront and ships. Joanne Gorman, a member of the Seaport Coalition and co-founder of Friends of the South Street Seaport, spoke against the proposal because it takes away public space and historic views, she said during the public hearing on Tuesday.

“The standards we use for the use of our public spaces should be of the highest caliber and they should always favor as much public use as possible,” Gorman said Tuesday. “Use that will pull a piece of public space out of the public realm under the guise of being available to all but really focused on a select audience if, for example, you have the money to pay for the offering, doesn’t belong here.”

LPC Chair Sarah Carroll said the applicant should revise its proposal to address the impact a visible addition could have on the historic neighborhood, particularly reexamining the materiality and the location of the proposed bar. No action was taken by the commission on Tuesday.

The new restauant is part of a larger master plan for the neighborhood from Howard Hughes. As Curbed NY reported in March, the group wants to redevelop a number of sites in the South Street Seaport, which could bring a nearly 1,000-foot-tall tower at 250 Water Street.


Renderings courtesy of Woods Bagot/ NYC Parks

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