Take me to the river

One thing that I really do miss about being in the UK in the summer is the ability to sit having one-for-the-road in a riverside drinking establishment. Obviously this Brit Out Of Water is a complete tee-totaller (ahem), but the opportunity to drink a nice pint of, erm, ginger ale in a pub garden overlooking rowers and marine life as the sun gently sets is one that should never be turned down.

Britain’s river banks are littered with boozers, and the river has played a key part in my social upbringing as a result. My earliest days of boozing with The Beancounter et al saw us frequent places like The Boathouse in Chester, although we were admittedly in part attracted by their flexible approach to the legal requirement that you be 18 years old to get a drink. At university, lost afternoons might be spent at The Mill or The Anchor watching punts sail by as we collectively and conveniently overlooked the fact that we should probably be sat in the library. And then to London, where I never looked back after a first job that saw the nearest boozer located next to the water. Sadly it’s been demolished now. Rumours that its revenues never recovered after I moved on have yet to be confirmed.

I’ve already talked at length about the great difficulty in drinking outside in the US. But the fact is that it’s difficult getting a meal or a drink even in sight of the river(s) in New York. Sure, there is the occasional exception to prove the rule, but it’s almost as if the health and safety police have decided that anybody drinking (heavily or otherwise) near a river will automatically feel duty bound to leap into the water at the end of the evening. And just to make sure, New York has put some its major roadways next to the water, in the shape of the FDR Drive and the West Side Highway, making sure that anyone tempted to build a temple to hedonism anywhere near the Hudson or the East River is put off by the fumes and incessant car horns.

Desperate for some waterside relaxation this Friday, The Special One and I made our way down to South Street Seaport at the base of Manhattan, and one of the few areas of the city to combine the words ‘river’ and ‘food and drink’. I had images of the gentle breeze coming in off the water as we quaffed a deliciously dry Pouilly Fume and ate mountains of impossibly fresh seafood. I was, quite literally, in my element.

When we got there, it was like a cross between Covent Garden and Blackpool, with thousands of tourists combining with local office workers to create an atmosphere more redolent of an overcrowded amusement park than a peaceful riverside paradise. We walked straight past the chain restaurants, had a lukewarm glass of chardonnay in a plastic glass as we looked at the New York waterfalls, and quickly hightailed it out of there.

Next time I get the urge for waterside drinking, I’m buying a paddling pool and putting it in the back yard.

9 thoughts on “Take me to the river

  1. Expat Mum

    Here in Chicago we have a fair bit of beach and for some long-standing legal reason, not a waterfront bar or restaurant in sight, unless you count the temporary one at the top of Michigan Avenue which will come down the day after Labor Day. Waste of great beach front potential in my view.

  2. amelie

    The first place I found riverside drinking was in Toronto, Ontario. I absolutely loved it. The restaurants down there are to die for, and even if you pay a bit more for the view, completely worth it.

  3. Brooklyn

    While it may be Blackpoolish (I’ve never been, but I think I get the metaphor) try one of the Boardwalk Russian restaurants in Brighton Beach (Brooklyn, not UK). It has a special flavor. They don’t call it Little Odessa for nothing. You can spend your time trying to distinguish the real Russian mafioso from the wannabes.

  4. gabi

    Try the Yard on the Gowanus Canal. They have BBQs on the weekend. http://www.theyard.ws/The_Yard/Home.html

    And next time you’re at the Seaport try Spiegelworld. It’s much nicer than most of the rest of the amusement fun park down there… and it’s fenced off from the plebes.

    And if you were in my hood I’d take you to the Marina on Dyckman, but the bar was shut down last summer in a sting involving drug dealers and dirty cops.

  5. LB

    There’s another bar in Riverside Park, above the Boat Basis at 106th street. It’s much quieter and really pretty lovely. But it’s a real trek if you’re based in Brooklyn.

  6. Mike

    I was amused to come upon your post on this subject as I was discussing the same thing yesterday with a friend in regards to Boston. We have a few places on the harbor that are ok, not great, none on the river and nothing on Massachusetts Bay, that I am aware of. In Scotland, I can name a dozen places on the water that come to mind immediately. And I remember when I lived in London that there were loads of places both north and south of the Thames. It’s really odd. And by the way, I got quite the image with your description of South St. Seaport being a cross between Covent Garden and Blackpool. You cannot comprehend Blackpool unless you’ve been there. WOW!!

  7. Alasdair

    Mike – we are spoiled in Scotland by having so many places where the water-containing scenery is spectacular, particularly on the West Coast … even the classic lochs, like Loch Lomond and Loch Ness, just add to the enjoyment of the picnic or pint enjoyed while contemplating Nature’s glory …

    On the couple of times I have visited NYC, the water-side ambience hasn’t been *quite* as attractive, bring to mind the River in Ankh-Morpork more than idyllic riparian bliss …

    Disclaimer: since I was lucky enough to be on one of the sailing ships in the “Parade of Sail” that was part of the 1976 Bicenntennial Celebrations in NYC, and I got to watch the fireworks’ display that evening from a mooring just off the Statue of Liberty Island, I freely admit that that was a superbly memorable NYC water-based experience …

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