Inside Look: Grand Banks, NYC

It’s not every day you get to drink fancy cocktails overlooking the NYC skyline, but it’s not (only) the views that make Grand Banks one of our favorite bars in the country; the historic schooner-turned-cocktail bar’s design made our list of amazing spaces in the March/April 2016 Design Issue.

It was a shared passion for all things maritime that compelled architects and designers (and friends) Alexander Pincus and Eric Cheong (Atelier Ace) to revamp the distinguished F/V Sherman Zwicker from a 1940s-era sailboat into a floating oyster and cocktail bar. Docked at Pier 25 on the Hudson River (the location itself an epicenter of the global oyster trade in the 17th century), the 142-foot floating barge blends historic elements with modern touches, offering a one-of-a-kind experience of drinking and dining on a ship without any gimmicks.

“It was important the character of the ship feel authentic and not butchered into a floating restaurant that looks like it belongs on land,” says Cheong.

The duo worked hard to pay homage to the vessel’s working history where possible. Naval bronze, heavy gloss paint and varnished wood were employed to evoke the right historic look, and each of the two bars on the ship are based around features from the original vessel. “In the middle of the bar—where we now have a handsome and substantially-built island with taps and wine storage—was a hatch into which fishermen would dump the daily catch. We re-used this hatch to run all of our beer lines and infrastructure,” Pincus says. Below deck, where fish would be cured and stores in the “fish hold” for long journeys, the duo also added custom walk-ins to hold enough booze for several days at a time. “For me, it’s very meaningful that this hatch is still the lifeblood of the vessel,” Pincus says.

Smaller details like vintage oyster forks and subtle material selections also reference the original use, while other elements add contemporary touches. “The main bar clad in heavy gloss painted tabour and tropical hardwood top may feel the most contemporary, as it’s outfitted with all the modern bar equipment needed and maintains a low profile so the boom can clear,” Cheong says. “The rounded shapes of the bars help with flow and service, but also provide a subtle modern feel while blending with her natural curved deck lines.”

The project ended up being so personal for the friends that together with partner Adrien Gallo and Pincus’ brother Miles they restored Grand Banks themselves. “The build out was the hardest any of us had ever worked and certainly the most fun we’ve ever had with power tools,” Pincus says. “Nothing feels better than drinking a cocktail at the bar you’ve built by hand yourself. Especially when it’s on a historic 142-foot boat overlooking New York Harbor.”