On the Waterfront

Eat and drink from ship to shore

It's easy to forget as we scurry between endless concrete and steel, but New York is, in fact, a city on many waters. Maritime shipping routes built this city, and today, after a long period of neglect, New York's waterfront is finally being put to good use.

You could have a beach day and get happily overstuffed on clams, hot dogs and the amazing pies at Totonno's pizzeria. Or explore the many wonders of fried seafood out in City Island. You can sip a classy cocktail while mooning at the Manhattan skyline at The River Café in DUMBO, or anchor yourself in Chelsea for cheap drinks in plastic cups at the massive floating Frying Pan. Heck, you don't have to stay docked at all at The Water Table, a decidedly hip dinner cruise.

But, really, our favorite maritime route starts in Tribeca and ends in Red Hook; it's an ambling (and floating!) journey that avoids some of the more touristic waterfront destinations and the second-rate provisions that often accompany them, while affording some of the more stunning views this city has to offer. Naturally, there are plenty of opportunities for contemplative reflection and/or selfies-at-sunset Instagramming.

The view from Grand Banks | Photo: Tasting Table

Start your journey at Grand Banks, Mark Firth's new floating oyster and cocktail bar docked at Pier 25 in Tribeca. The historic 142-foot schooner is outfitted with a small kitchen and raw bar to ply the well-heeled downtown crowd with shellfish and rosé, plus a small nautical photo exhibit below deck. It's a good place to whet your appetite and get your sea legs before taking a leisurely stroll across town to the Financial District, where you'll really set sail (er, ferry).

Hop the Destination Red Hook ferry, which runs for free on weekends between Manhattan's Pier 11 and the Ikea and Fairway Docks in Brooklyn. Disembark at the latter and get to wandering.

Bivalve fortification at Grand Banks | Photo: Tasting Table

Your final destination is Sunny's Bar, a ramshackle institution at the end of Conover Street that first opened in 1890 and has mercifully recovered from its nasty Hurricane Sandy-induced damages. It's filled floor to ceiling with tchotchkes (nautical and otherwise) and plays host to late-night bluegrass jam sessions for neighborhood characters and traveling musicians.

But Sunny's doesn't hit its groove until late, so you'll need to spend some time exploring the sprawling industrial piers, admiring the Statue of Liberty and the amateur fishermen who drop lines from the shore. Grab a smoky brisket or pulled pork sandwich ($10) from Hometown Bar-B-Que's seasonal weekend stand at Valentino Pier, and save room for a Swingle—an individually portioned, frozen, chocolate-dipped key lime pie on a stick ($6.50)—at Steve's Authentic Key Lime Pies just across the way.

Then it's time to drop anchor over at Sunny's, grab an icy beer and toast the city's nautical roots, still growing strong.