New York City’s once-snoozy South Street Seaport neighborhood is finally springing back to life

Bowen & Co. Stationers, at New York's South Street Seaport
Credit: Kira Turnbull

No one was more surprised than New Yorkers themselves to learn that South Street Seaport — a patch of land at Manhattan's lower end, right where the East River widens into New York Harbor — had become cool. For a generation, suburban-mall megachains dominated its cobblestoned streets, giving locals little reason to make a special trip. Then last year, developers launched a campaign to infuse the area — redubbed Seaport District NYC — with creative energy in the form of buzzy chef residencies, live music, and pop-up shops. The evolution had begun years earlier, after the area was badly damaged by Hurricane Sandy in 2012. But by mid 2017, there was little doubt: Seaport, strangely, had become Manhattan's neighborhood to watch.

These days, smaller merchants have mostly supplanted or outlived the retail giants. Northern Grade, a market of American-made housewares and apparel, opened a flagship in 2015, not far from Farm Candy, which sells small-batch pantry products, and Bowne & Co. Stationers, a paper goods store and print studio operated by the South Street Seaport Museum, an area fixture since 1967. Clinton Hall, a laid-back beer garden with a location nearby in the Financial District, arrived last year, giving the after-hours scene a jolt.

The Northern Grade shop at the South Street Seaport
Credit: Kira Turnbull

The neighborhood's first boutique lodging, the 66-room Mr. C Seaport (doubles from $500), opens this spring, in a handsome Federal style brick building that for years languished as an unremarkable outpost of a chain hotel. Now it has a European feel, reflecting the sensibilities of designer Thomas Juul-Hansen (best known for his interiors at restaurants like Nougatine and Perry Street) and the Italian owners (two brothers from the Cipriani hospitality family). Rooms are luxurious yet subdued, with gray velveteen accent walls, lacquered-teak trim, and marble-clad bathrooms. Upon arrival, guests will be escorted to the jewel-box lounge for a cappuccino or cocktail while they check in; upstairs, negronis await in the mini-bars. It's just a block from the waterfront, so no matter which room you book, you're guaranteed a picturesque view: the Brooklyn Bridge from the upper floors or the cobblestones of Peck Slip from the lower.

Dining options and a room at the Mr. C Seaport Hotel
Credit: Kira Turnbull

The old shopping mall at Pier 17 has been razed, replaced with a glassy structure that will open later this year with a rooftop event space and new ventures by restaurateurs David Chang, Andrew Carmellini, and Jean-Georges Vongerichten. A branch of indie bookstore McNally Jackson will move in nearby, as will the cult-favorite Milanese concept store 10 Corso Como.

This flurry of development points to a broader renaissance that's swept Lower Manhattan in the years since 9/11. Once quiet after Wall Street's closing bell rang, the area now draws locals and tourists in equal measure, whether they're seeking designer clothing at the Oculus or epicurean treats from Eataly. Now, at last, the revival feels fully realized, and Seaport, a sliver of waterfront nearly as old as the city itself, is gleaming anew.