Coolest Floating Restaurants
"There's a very real, visceral experience of actually being on a boat and being in nature," says architect Alex Pincus, who co-founded Grand Banks, a new oyster bar on a historic schooner in New York City's Hudson River. "You feel the boat move, and you have the wind, and you have a stunning waterfront view."
Any restaurant can opt for nautical décor; the appeal of floating restaurants like Grand Banks lies in the distinctive setting, fantastic views, and menus—whether Chinese or Italian—that showcase fresh seafood. Some settings are casual and perfect after a day on the beach (Kruvit on the Thai island of Phuket). Others are downright trendy; celebrities, dignitaries, and businesspeople converge at summer hot spot 360istanbul in the middle of the Bosporus.
For Grand Banks, Pincus joined forces with his brother Miles, a professional mariner; restaurateurs Mark Firth of Roman's and Marlow & Sons and Adrien Gallo of Palais Royale and Double Happiness; and architect and designer Eric Cheong, who directs the creative service studio behind Ace Hotels. "There used to be these barges that would line the shore where people could go buy oysters, so we were wondering why that no longer exists, and we thought it seemed like a charming concept to try," says Pincus.
The only problem is the weather; once it turns cold, Pincus and his crew plan to bring Grand Banks down south to a warmer climate to set up the same concept. "Maybe the Keys, maybe the Bahamas," he says. One thing is for certain: Grand Banks will be back in Manhattan for the summer of 2015.
And there is no shortage of other cool floating restaurants to sample in the meantime. Whether accessed by boat, by bridge, or simply by stepping onto a floating platform, our favorite restaurants on the water give diners an experience they can't get elsewhere.
La Piscina, Italy
Venice's central waterways are clogged with gondolas transporting tourists and honeymooners. But stroll about 15 minutes from St. Mark's Square, and you'll come upon La Piscina, a restaurant complete with a dining area floating on the Giudecca Canal. It's just removed enough to provide a quiet, intimate setting for a meal. Savor the traditional Mediterranean and Venetian dishes, such as spaghetti vongole, wild boar, and ravioli with lagoon fish and asparagus
DiMillo’s, Portland, ME
Weighing in at 701 tons, this car-ferry-turned-seafood-restaurant can seat more than 600 guests on Portland's waterfront. It serves the kind of New England dishes you'd expect, from steamed Maine clams served with broth and drawn butter to pecan-encrusted haddock. But DiMillo's iconic entrée is two lobsters stuffed (with a British bread stuffing) and baked or steamed. And for those who want to go all out, there's DiMillo's Lobster Bake—clam chowder, salad, one lobster, steamed clams, vegetables, a potato, a drink of your choice, and blueberry cobbler to finish it off.
Jumbo Kingdom, Hong Kong
Built to resemble a majestic ancient imperial palace, Jumbo Kingdom—and its adjacent Tai Pak restaurant—floats in the waters between Hong Kong Island and Ap Lei Chau island. More than 30 million visitors, including Queen Elizabeth II and Tom Cruise, have flocked to this gaudy establishment since it opened in 1976. There’s room for 2,300 in the various dining rooms, which specialize in Cantonese seafood dishes and dim sum. Look out for Aberdeen's fishing fleet on the free boat ride from Aberdeen Promenade to the restaurant.
360istanbul Suada, Turkey
To reach one of Istanbul's exclusive summertime hot spots, hop on a complimentary water taxi from Kuruçeşme across the Bosporus to the 360 Suada Club on Galatasaray Island—built from concrete blocks during the Ottoman Empire—and make a beeline for 360istanbul Suada. With its view of the Bosporus Bridge, this is the kind of restaurant that lulls you into sticking around for a long indulgent meal. Start with an array of meze (Turkish small plates) before moving on to entrées like the filet of dorade in grape leaves with shrimp tomato rice and grape raki sauce.
Ristorante Matylda, Czech Republic
Come for dinner, stay for the night at Prague's Botel Matylda, with a restaurant and 25 guest rooms spread across the Matylda and Klotylda boats in the Vltava River. While waterborne, you can admire Prague Castle—the presidential residence dating back to 870—and tuck into tagliatelle with pork sausage and tomato sauce or braised lamb shank with Chianti sauce and roasted spinach.
Grand Banks, New York City
The 1940s-era wooden schooner F/V Sherman Zwicker has been doing time as an oyster bar this summer, stationed in the Hudson River near Tribeca's Pier 25. "This was the place where the best oysters in America came from," says Alex Pincus, one of the founders of Grand Banks. You can learn about the boat's history in a mini-museum down below. But it won't be long before you want to be back on the deck, which has jaunty yellow-and-white-striped sails and a circular bar dispensing cocktails like the Negroni Sbagliato, with its added splash of Prosecco. The menu includes a cucumber-lined lobster roll, fluke crudo, and all kinds of oysters.
After beach hopping on the island of Phuket, head to the Laem Hin Pier to catch a free long-tail speedboat for the two-minute ride to Kruvit, a casual floating restaurant built from bamboo rafts. Enjoy being in the open air while feasting on fresh Thai seafood like steamed lobster with garlic, fried blue crab with curry powder, and fried sweet shellfish with roasted chili sauce—paired with an ice-cold bottle of Singha beer.
Salt & Sill, Sweden
Built atop pontoons in Tjörn (about an hour drive from Gothenburg), Salt & Sill serves up spectacular views of the Skagerrak strait along with fresh seafood and traditional Swedish cuisine. "You should definitely eat our herring plank with six kinds of herring and accessories," says Salt & Sill reservations booker Lina Ristorp, who recommends washing it down with the restaurant's house-made schnapps. You can stay for the night in one of the rooms spread across six two-story buildings—or try out the "world's fastest" floating sauna.
The Blue Anchor at Spruce Street Harbor Park, Philadelphia
Better hurry up if you want to pay a visit to the Blue Anchor; this pop-up restaurant is open only through August 31. It's part of a seasonal floating complex with a boardwalk, an urban beach, and misting areas set on barges along the Delaware River. Blue Anchor offers tasty items in a casual setting, like the Blue Anchor Special—a burger with truffle mushroom, caramelized onions, and cheddar, and Short Fries—fries topped with braised short ribs and Sly Fox cheddar sauce.
Feng Shang Princess, England
Could London's Feng Shang Princess have been inspired by Hong Kong's Jumbo Kingdom? It certainly looks that way, given the similar Chinese architectural features of the boat's exterior. Moored at Cumberland Basin in Regent's Park since the 1980s, this traditional Chinese restaurant offers crispy Peking duck—if ordered 24 hours in advance—along with classics like sweet-and-sour chicken and clay pot bean curd with eggplant.
De Limonadefabriek, Netherlands
Although its name translates into English as "Lemonade Factory," this floating restaurant—located at the marina on the river Lek in Streefkerk, a town some 12 miles east of Rotterdam—serves much more. Owner and chef Erik Hermans explains that he wanted to "make people curious." And he does, whipping up an ever-changing menu that includes dishes such as beetroot risotto with goat cheese, Manchego, shallots, basil, and turnip. Visitors also have the option to dine at Prik Bistro, its more affordable sister restaurant (in the same floating structure).
Forbes Island, San Francisco
Originally built in the 1970s as a private home in Sausalito, Forbes Island has been docked between Piers 39 and 41 in San Francisco since 1999, and features 35-foot palm trees, white-sand patios, and its own lighthouse. Guests can glimpse San Francisco landmarks like Alcatraz and the Bay Bridge before dining on continental French-California cuisine. "The dining room is underwater, so you're actually dining underwater with portholes," says general manager Pierre Bleuse. "You're by a fireplace with fish going by."