Close-Up on South Street Seaport


Portions of this article have been updated.

Wedged between the Brooklyn Bridge and the financial district, South Street Seaport is near the top of most visitors’ to see list. Like other tourist destinations in the city, people actually live amid the throngs of sightseers, shoppers, and (in this case) fishmongers. “It’s like being in a tourist attraction all the time,” says Sally (who chose not to use her real name) with a weary if-you-only-knew tone to her voice. Four years into her second stint in the neighborhood—her first lasted 13 years—Sally does acknowledge that it’s nice that there are now stores, bars not filled with fishermen, and restaurants, but not all change has been for the better: “Now [developers] can do anything in the downtown area in the name of the WTC. Anything to bring people and business to the area is okay.”

There’s no way that the quaint 18th- and 19th-century buildings in the seaport village neighborhood will fall to the wrecking ball. The facades remain intact and the insides are renovated. Much of the work is being done for luxury housing and upscale retail, although there are plenty of storefronts still empty. Conspiracy theorists believe this ongoing mall-ification likely hastened the decamping of the Fulton Fish Market, which is slated to move to Hunts Point in December. The official reason is that a recent law makes it illegal to sell meats in the open air.

Thanks to mixed-use buildings that are only three or four stories tall, the neighborhood isn’t shrouded in the shadows of skyscrapers and, once you get off Fulton Street and away from the mall, the neighborhood can be quite relaxing. “I like the quiet at night,” says Luciana Curtis, a three-year resident out walking her dog. “I’m not from New York City, so this feels comfortable for me.”

Boundaries: Fletcher Street to the south, the Brooklyn Bridge to the north, the East River to the east, and Pearl and Water streets to the west.

Transportation: Being so close to the financial district means there’s a myriad of choices nearby. It’s a five-minute walk up Fulton or John streets to the Fulton Street–Broadway–Nassau Street station hub. Here you can catch the 2 and 3; the 4 and 5; the A and C; or the J, M, and Z lines. The M15 bus is pretty slick too, passing through the neighborhood on Water and Pearl streets as it heads north, eventually continuing up Second Avenue.

Main Drags: East of the subway stations, Fulton Street is the de facto entrance to the neighborhood’s historic district. It’s blocked off to vehicles and has the easy to spot Titanic Memorial mini-lighthouse as a handy landmark.

Average Price to Rent: It’s steep if you want to be in the heart of the area. As a general rule, gut renovations done in the early ’90s are the most reasonably priced. Overall, a studio rents for $1,450 to $2,000; a one-bedroom from $1,950 to $2,700; a two-bedroom from $2,800 to $4,000; a three-bedroom from $4,600 and up. There are alternatives on the edges, such as the South Bridge Residential Tower, which is a Mitchell-Lama middle-income tower located across Water and Pearl streets.

Average Price to Buy: According to Citi-Habitats’ Brian Edwards, who’s worked in the area for several years in a variety of real estate capacities, the availability of places is extremely limited, but a number of newly renovated buildings along Front Street will come on the market in December. Currently, studios are virtually nonexistent in the neighborhood. One-bedrooms go for between $400,000 and $500,000. Two-bedrooms can be anywhere between $600,000 and $700,000. A three-bedroom’s asking price is upwards of $1 million. Penthouses and townhouses sell for over $2 million.

Landmarks: The Fulton Fish Market is a destination for local foodies. Fishmongers and restaurateurs do business (that’s 150 million pounds of seafood annually!) in the pre-dawn and morning hours, April through October. This explains the lingering smell of fish that still permeates the area. Typically you have to buy a minimum quantity, but as the morning wears on sellers tend to become more agreeable to smaller sales.

Museums: The South Street Seaport Museum (open Friday to Monday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., from November 1-March 31 and Tuesday to Sunday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., April 1-October 31) focuses on the history of New York City as a port, typically presenting nautical-themed exhibits of artifacts, paintings, and writings. The museum’s branches include the Port Life Gallery (209 Water Street), the Seaman’s Church Institute (241 Water Street), the Walter Lord Gallery (209 Water Street), the A.A. Lowe Gallery (167–171 John Street), and the recently opened Schermerhorn Row (the entire block along Fulton between Front and South streets). The best is Melville Gallery (213 Water Street), which offers readings and musical performances appropriate to the museum as well as exhibits.The Melville Library (213 Water Street) is an active research facility. Tickets, which provide admission to all the ships and museums, can be purchased for $8 at 12 Fulton Street or the Pier 16 Visitor Center.

The Ships: With masts 170 feet high and a metal hull 377 feet long, the Peking is the largest of the ships permanently moored at the dock. Of the eight ships, the Lettie G. Howard, the W.O. Decker, and the Pioneer are used for classes and training. They can also be chartered. The Peking, the Wavetree, and the Ambrose are permanently moored.

Green Space: Green space is limited, but there’s plenty of waterfront space as well as park benches along the East River promenade on the north side of the fish market.

Best Restaurants: The sidewalk tables at Quartino (21–23 Peck Slip, 212-349-4433), located on the edge of a cobbled area called Pecks Slip, offer serenity in the early evening that you can’t find in the Village or other restaurant-heavy neighborhoods. Thanks to several pedestrian-only streets in the area, car traffic is minimal, which means your exquisite pizza crust style focaccia doesn’t taste like exhaust fumes. If you’re looking for cheap eats, Radio Mexico Café (259 Front Street, 212-791-5416) fits the bill nicely, particularly when you order the Mahi Mahi fish tacos. The place also doubles as a decent dive bar, featuring pool and pinball.

Best Stores: For an experience well beyond Office Max, try Bowne and Co. Stationers (211 Water Street, 212-748-8651). This authentic 19th-century-era printing shop looks like it could be in Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley and offers printing services (get your business cards or letterhead printed with 19th-century wood or metal type!) and goods for sale. Strand Annex (95 Fulton Street, 212-732-6070) is close to the subway station. This one isn’t quite the size of the store on Broadway, but that’s not a bad thing, and it offers the same inexpensive prices as the Broadway store. A flea market is held every other weekend. Please refer to Lynn Yaeger’s review for more info.

Best Bars: Even though it has moved a block and a half south on Water Street and left behind most of the dusty bras hanging from the rafters of the old location, Jeremy’s Ale House (228 Front Street, 212-964-3537) is still a magnet for those looking for cheap drinks, bad behavior, and the ambiance of a basement rec room. If Animal House isn’t your thing, Paris Café (119 South Street, 212-240-9797) has a nice bar and the drinks aren’t much more expensive.

Politicians: City Councilman Alan J. Gerson, State Assemblyman and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, State Senator Martin Connor, and Congressman Jerrold Nadler—all Democrats.

Crime Stats: Life on the waterfront is not as dangerous as it once was. The South Street Seaport area is served by the First Precinct, which also handles much of the financial district and the bottom of Manhattan. As of October 16, 2005, it reported zero murders, 3 rapes, 127 robberies, 90 felony assaults, and 225 burglaries. (As of June 20, the First reported one murder, up from zero at this time last year; two rapes, same as last year; 71 robberies, down two from last year; 66 felonious assaults, up two; 80 burglaries, down a whopping 124; and 782 grand larcenies, up four. Overall, crime is down nearly 10 percent in the precinct.)