As a New York native, I haven’t always thought of Manhattan’s Seaport as a destination for excellent dining. Sure, it has some good bites and plenty of old-New York charm, but over the past few years, the dining scene has seriously leveled up. This week, legendary chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten brought even more buzz to the Seaport, celebrating the grand-opening of his latest venture, the Tin Building: an opulent 53,000-square-foot marketplace with savvy design, thoughtful merchandising, and some seriously delicious food. It was nothing short of magic.
Designed by acclaimed firm Roman and Williams, the updated Tin Building pays homage to the building’s historic roots. In 1907, the Fulton Fish Market moved into the newly built Tin Building, where it operated until moving to the Bronx in 2005. The massive building, which stood near the river for nearly a century, was battered by storms over the years, and was largely ruined by Hurricane Sandy in 2012.
Soon after the hurricane, chef Jean-Georges set his sight on the space, and SHoP Architects, the firm that designed the building, worked to preserve its history and protect it for years to come. They rescued any viable pieces from the former Tin Building and moved the whole structure further away from the river, raising it off the ground to protect it from future flooding. Keep an eye out for large fish motifs throughout the marketplace, which serve as a reminder of its former use.
As for the opening party, the event was marketplace meets Alice in Wonderland; I felt like I’d stepped into a time machine back to the ’40s. If you’ve ever wondered what NYC’s actors might be doing on a night off, you could find many of them here: some perched on a wooden ladder passing out historic newspapers at the front door, some dressed in theme socializing at food stations (shout out to the two guys with big fake beards at the German beer bar who yelled “Prost” every two minutes), and others walking around on ten-foot stilts in chef coats and toques.
The building boasts an array of culinary experiences, including six restaurants, multiple fast-casual counters, four bars, a gorgeous private dining room, a central grocery marketplace, and pantry shops. Akin to a luxury department store, the massive marketplace is broken into a series of rooms based on theme or cuisine. On the main floor, there’s a patisserie, a raw bar, a counter filled with Spanish ham and cheeses, a butcher, a farm stand with salads and sandwiches, a dosa and crepe station, a sushi bar, and an over-the-top pink candy and ice cream shop — plus lots more. At the opening, there was even a corner where a violinist on stilts guarded bartenders who poured Patron margaritas through a fish-shaped ice luge.
A trip up a long, dramatically lit escalator brings you to the second floor, where the rooms take an even more whimsical turn. There I found a gorgeous pantry shop (that reminded me of a more upscale version of Eataly), a generously decorated Mexican food counter, and, of course, my “Prost” buddies at the German beer hall — cheekily named Beer Here. Perhaps the star of the night was a vintage Chinese speakeasy, hidden behind the back corner of an Asian-inspired pantry section.
The speakeasy, called House of the Red Pearl, is larger than most NY restaurants; it’s equipped with a full bar, plush banquette seating, and retro round booths. The moodily lit back room, and accompanying live jazz band, transported me to an era I’ve only seen in movies. It was there where I saw Martha Stewart, looking like a goddess dressed in gold, who I swear stared right at me and smiled.
Of course, the food is the star of the show, and in that department the Tin Building did not disappoint. While every bite surpassed my expectations of food hall fare, there were a few serious standouts. An ultra-flavorful grass-fed burger at T. Brasserie, topped with a light blanket of Gruyère, was served on a shatteringly delightful puff-pastry bun. There were surprisingly inventive uses of mushrooms at the vegan restaurant, Seeds & Weeds, with a favorite being the cornmeal-crusted chicken of the woods mushroom, which rivaled fried chicken. Back in the speakeasy, a light and crisp, generously filled shrimp spring roll was pure delight. And I’d be remiss not to give an honorable mention to the yuzu- and chili-topped oyster and tiny grilled cheese sandwiches garnished with a heaping tablespoon of Osetra caviar.
While the over-the-top opening made the Tin Building feel like a culinary circus, the everyday experience promises to be a bit of edible joy at the Seaport.