North River Lobster Co. (Pier 81 at West 41st Street, 212-630-8831) is not a dinner cruise. Yes, you’ll eat on a moving boat. But the reference doesn’t do the new venture justice: There’s no strict dress code, there are no white linen tablecloths, and on the weekends, there’s live music. There are also no reservation times or pre-payment fees, and the experience is more “let’s see what’s in store” than “this ship better be worth it.”
Since there are no reservations, guests can show up right before one of the four daily sail times and enjoy a quick city getaway, and while the New York City skyline hangs in the background, the vibe inside is all New England, thanks to nautical decor.
Feast on a mix of raw bar specialties, fried seafood, and casual fare like chicken sandwiches and salads, or opt for the lobster roll ($18). Pair your meal to one of many cocktails mixed up in mason jars — like the rum-and-pineapple-infused batten down the hatches — or nab a beer bucket for a group. The boat ride lasts 45 minutes, but you are invited to stay on board afterward as long as you want.
We spoke with Jason Hackett, the chief marketing officer for North River Lobster Co.’s parent company New York Cruise Lines, who talked to us about the new venture, the evolution of interactive dining, and the rise of lobster’s popularity.
There are a lot of dinner on a boat experiences around Manhattan. What makes North River Lobster Co. unique?
We saw this opportunity to create something really different. We’re not tying dinner into the cruise. We’re not charging you for anything other than the food. We’re not making the cruise the center of the event. Here we are celebrating the food, celebrating on the water. You’re not paying extra for decor.
Do you think more people these days are looking for an interactive experience such as the one you provide when it comes to dining out as opposed to just dining at a restaurant?
I think so. Great food has really become table steaks. You can now get great food in any number of on-the-go environments. For us, we are kind of creating a new set of interactive rules, if you will. We’re going to take the restaurant and move around the city. We’re going to change your perspective. We’re tapping into something more New York City related. The city has done a phenomenal job of rediscovering the waterfront.
Why has it taken so long for New York to have a casual lobster cruise?
Running a boat business is not an inexpensive endeavor. There are a lot of costs that go along with that. The dinner cruise business is a good business, but it requires payment up front. For us to be viable, we have to run everyday and staff it to go out, and there are a lot of operating costs that go along with that. We felt operationally there were huge barriers. The dinner cruise model was developed at a time when eating was a much more formal affair. The time was really right for us to break the mold. There were a bunch of things to come together…we knew there was a business opportunity with people moving into the neighborhood.
North River Lobster Co.’s web site devotes an entire section to lobster jokes and provides step by step instructions on how to eat lobster correctly. Why are people so into this shellfish?
Lobster is the Horatio Alger story of food. It was the food of the peasant class. As the Victorians gave way to the early industrial age and pre-World War I, lobster became a luxury item. [Now], lobster is a much more accessible thing. People love casual. People love being by the water. The lobster roll is an affordable luxury. Just the whole laid back thing. Come to the edge of the water and relax. Let me go chill out by the water and have some beers and eat a lobster roll. We’re really trying to do lobster the way they do it in New England. Chill time. Vacation time.
The menu includes a Maine lobster roll but not the Connecticut version. Is the Maine style just more popular in your opinion, or is there room for both? Which do you prefer?
I’m hoping we can develop a culture like In N’ Out burger where people can order it specific ways. Secret off the menu ways. Personally, I am a huge fan of the Maine lobster roll.
Click through for more photos of North River Lobster Co’s food, drink, and decor offerings.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on May 28, 2014