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South Street Seaport’s effort to transform itself from a rowdy tourist destination to an actual hot spot will continue this month with the planned opening at Pier 17 of a new eatery by Michelin-rated chef Andrew Carmellini.
The chef behind Locanda Verde in Robert de Niro’s Greenwich Hotel is gearing up to open Italian chop shop Carne Mare on June 10 — the latest in a series of high-end eateries to take over the casual dining and fast-food restaurants that once dominated the downtown Manhattan Pier.
Think Florentine steak, spicy lobster spaghetti and salt-baked sea bass wrapped in fig leaves served tableside and finished with fermented chili and dandelion dressing.
It’s a long way from the days when the Fulton Fish Market ruled the area until it was forced out in 2005 amid development pressure. While there were efforts to revitalize Pier 17 after that, it was labeled nothing more than a tourist trap for years.
As a young chef, Carmellini used to go bar hopping at midnight — ending up at the Fulton Fish Market at 3 a.m. to shop.
“It was great, but grungy, with Burger King and Yankee Candle Shop,” he said looking out at the tall ships on the water in front of the Pier. “Nirvana even did an early grunge promo shot outside Pier 17.”
That’s been changing since Howard Hughes Corp. scored a sweet deal in 2013 to lease the Pier for a mere $1.2 million a year — along with other big and sometimes controversial development plans for the neighboring area, including its historic district.
The Pier’s transformation started in earnest in 2019 with The Fulton by chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten. There’s also Momofuku’s Ssam Bar, Malibu Farm, Heineken Riverdeck and The Greens — Pier 17’s rooftop that became a popular destination last summer thanks to its socially distanced lawn chairs.
There’s also Cobble & Co., a gastro pub and a garden bar, along with locally owned, independent restaurants, like Seaport House.
Still to come: Chefs Wylie Dufresne and Josh Eden, opening an all-day cafe at nearby 1 Fulton Street.
Last month Carmellini opened Mister Dips — burgers and soft dip cones. Opening day on May 27 “was full — despite the rain,” Carmellini told Side Dish.
Of course, the area’s attempt at a renaissance comes at a difficult time. The Seaport, which depends on the office lunch crowd and tourism, was a ghost town during lockdown. And many New Yorkers still avoid it instinctively.
Carmellini said: “A lot of people, even friends, say, ‘You’re opening in the Seaport, really?’ I say, have you been down there recently?”
Some critics also disapprove of Howard Hughes’ transformation plans, which include a 324-foot tower on the site of a parking lot at 250 Water Street that was technically designated a historic landmark.
Said one real estate and restaurant insider: “They [HHC] feel like, if they build it, people will come. But their corporate culture is about a real estate play to turn a parking lot into a tower, without adding to the district’s soul.”
Others, however, support the changes. Lawyer and restaurateur Kian Khatibi, a South Street Seaport resident, says he launched nearby Seaport House, a 72-seat, 2000-square-foot eatery located on Front Street, which is slightly away from the Pier, last fall in part because of HHC’s investment in the district.
He says both tourists and locals have been returning to the area in recent months, including Alba DeMichael, a 44-year-old FiDi-based fashion designer who has become a Seaport House regular.
“I was passing by and came in — and I’ve been coming back ever since for the seafood and cocktails,” she says.
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