Four of the five boroughs are located on an island, so it’s somewhat baffling, says Sue Walsh, that New Yorkers don’t spend more time on the water. Thank our history, she explains — NYC’s waterfront has long been commercially focused, so waterways became polluted, and the rich moved inland, leaving strips of land that many towns consider prime real estate relegated to the fringe. After the ferries of the 19th century gave way to subways, many of us see the water only when we pass over a bridge in a train.
But Walsh and her wife Kelli Farwell wanted to change that, giving local New Yorkers the chance to experience the harbors without having to board a tourist cruise. And so they started working on the Water Table (India Street Pier, Brooklyn), a dinner boat — or floating restaurant — that set sail for its first service last week.
“Kelli’s background is in hospitality,” Walsh explains. “She worked at Gramercy Tavern and Craft, and then she left city and went to work in Brooklyn, where she worked at DuMont, Dressler, and Rye. She wanted to pursue something else, and she was really inspired to get her captain’s license.” In the meantime, thanks to her commute on the East River ferry, Walsh had been wondering why so few New Yorkers spend time on the river. It wasn’t long before the partners decided to build out a restaurant, “a space like people for us to enjoy,” says Walsh.
They began searching for a boat, only to go under contract for a vessel and lose it. A year ago yesterday, they wrapped up an Indiegogo campaign, raising $27,000 that allowed them to start looking again. They found the Revolution up in Boston, which had been used as a charter boat, and fell in love. “We really wanted a vessel with character so it didn’t just feel like transportation device,” Walsh explains. “We were really excited.”
The pair closed on their new ship in March and brought it back to New York harbor in May, where they began the renovations to transform the vessel into a place where they could cook an serve meals. They built bar seating along the periphery faces the water — ideal for couples on a date — and installed a pair of tables in the center of the room seats larger parties. And after several months plus a number of test runs on friends and family, Walsh and Farwell took their first guests out, giving them a trip around the southern part of the island so they can take in the skyline and Statue of Liberty while they eat and drink.
Diners board the boat at 7:30, Walsh explains, and then order drinks from the full bar. A $75 three-course prix fixe follows, and while the menu is limited now, the owner says it will eventually expand as they’ve dialed in their ability to operate. “We’re doing all New England-inspired cuisine,” she explains. “In the winter, when you’re out on a boat, you want stews and soups, so that’s the focus of menu now. We have corn chowder, kale salad, a mussel salad, a bolognese dish with toasted farm bread, and a seasonal vegetable pie with goat cheese.” Dinner finishes off with a butterscotch cookie and a shot of rum and docks back in the harbor by 10. The menu will rotate seasonally, Walsh says, and come spring, the partners will work with purveyors like the Brooklyn Grange and the Greenmarket.
Once the Water Table finds its sea legs, Walsh says she and Farwell will expand outings to more nights per week (currently, the boat operates on Friday and Saturday) as well as add brunch and late-night cocktail cruises.
So far, she says, people have loved it. “New Yorkers are loving the Statue,” she says. “It’s really great to witness those things.”
Make your reservations via the Water Table’s website; you can book cruises 60 days out. And while slots are filling up quickly, Walsh said yesterday that they just opened reservations for this Friday — so jump aboard.