City Guide

Four hours in New York: Seaport District

31 Oct 2019 by Tom Otley

1 - Titanic Memorial Lighthouse

Titanic Memorial Lighthouse, New York, NY, USA

The Seaport District at the south-eastern tip of Manhattan is one of New York’s most historic districts, and yet is overlooked by most tourist itineraries, and overshadowed (literally) by some of its modern developments. Located between Brooklyn Bridge to the north-east and Maiden Lane to the south-east, it is a series of streets running parallel to the water’s edge – Front Street, Water Street and South Street. Reaching it is easy. Use Fulton Street station and walk down the road of the same name until you see the Titanic Memorial Lighthouse, which sat on top of the 12-storey Seamen’s Church Institute on South Street until its demolition in the late 1960s. From this point, you can spot buildings from the early 19th century and appreciate a history dating back to the Dutch West India Company of 1625. Walk to the right – the buildings here (numbered 2-18 Fulton Street) are called the Schermerhorn Row Block, designed in the Federal style of the late 18th and early 19th century.

Seaport District

2 - South Street Seaport Museum

South Street Seaport Museum, Fulton Street, New York, NY, USA

This museum on Schermerhorn Row is where you can learn more about the district, especially if you pre-book a walking tour. This will explain how the marshy eastern shoreline – which is still vulnerable to flooding, as was shown in 2012 with Hurricane Sandy – was once a series of coves that gradually had their banks strengthened to create wharves and piers known as “Slips”, areas where boats arrived from the East River to load and unload. The slips were filled in but are recognisable by the width of the streets – check out nearby Peck Slip, which is wider than  neighbouring roads. It’s a fascinating exercise strolling around the area and spotting them – Coenties Slip (mentioned in chapter one of Moby Dick), Old Slip, Catherine Slip, Market Slip and Burling Slip. If you’re interested in the conservation of the area, see Save Our Seaport. Museum open 11am-5pm Wed-Sun; entry US$20. southstreetseaportmuseum.org

3 - Shopping

Bowne & Co., Stationers, Water Street, New York, NY, USA

The area has certainly gone upmarket since the late New Yorker writer Joseph Mitchell described its fascinating but down-at-heel cafés and bars and, most famously, the oystermen of Fulton Fish Market (see below). Today, alongside well-known brands such as Scotch and Soda and Guess, you’ll find an interesting mix of boutiques including Cynthia Rowley and Lee Lee’s Forest. For shoes there’s SJP by Sarah Jessica Parker, while 10 Corso Como is a fashion, art, design, food and lifestyle store curated by Milan’s Carla Sozzani. After visiting the South Street Seaport Museum, pop into the adjoining Bowne and Co Stationers, owned by the museum, to view its unusual notebooks, quirky hand-printed greeting cards and 19th-century letterpress machinery. seaportdistrict.nyc

Seaport District. Credit: Howard Hughes

4 - Fulton Fish Market

Fulton Fish Market, New York, NY, USA

The Fulton Fish Market was located in the Seaport District from 1822, originally in a wooden shed and then in several other buildings before in 1907 being housed in what became known as the Tin Building because of its corrugated metal façade. In 2005 the market moved to the Bronx and is still here today. The Tin Building was damaged by flooding in 2012 and has been rebuilt about ten metres away, further from the FDR Drive. It will house a seafood-themed food hall by acclaimed chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten, set to open in 2022. 

5 - Food and drink

Big Gay Ice Cream, Front Street, New York, NY, USA

There’s plenty of choice, from an outpost of vegan chain By Chloe to the Big Gay IceCream parlour. Pier 17 has several options, including Bar Wayo for Asian fusion food and craft ales, and Vongerichten’s the Fulton for seafood. There are lots of good bars but perhaps for a taste of earlier, less gentrified times, you should try Jeremy’s Ale House.

Its current location on Front Street is one of several it has had in the area over the years, but the vibe of seafood and beers remains the same, as do the women’s bras hanging from the ceiling. It prides itself on having discounted drinks for breakfast, if you find the jet lag has really messed up your body clock. 

For something more sophisticated, the Garden Bar is a great choice, but also try R17, a rooftop bar at the top of Pier 17 overlooking the East River. It is open throughout the day for drinks and food although is occasionally closed for concerts or private events. For more information on the area visit seaportdistrict.nyc.

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