Preview: Mega-Eating Drinking Complex That's Opening on Downtown's Pier A

Bar designer Danny McDonald in Pier A’s first floor, next to what will be an oyster bar and shucking stations. The vast floor can hold more than 600 people. Photo: Carl Glassman/Tribeca Trib

Mar. 31, 2014

Historic Pier A, for decades the victim of neglect and disrepair, will return to life in June as a mega-eating and drinking complex, including multiple bars, restaurants, a lounge, a tourist information center and a gallery of historical photos.

The man in charge of the interior transformation of this 32,000-square-foot shell of a building is Danny McDonald, a 48-year-old bar designer and native of Ireland. Starting life in New York as a 17-year-old bartender, he has gone on to design numerous bars and restaurants, including Harry’s, Ulysses and Grace, all owned by the Poulakakos family, the lease holders for Pier A.

McDonald said he took pains to give the 126-year-old pier a vintage look, from a collection of 170 retrofitted steamship pressure gauges that will glow above the long first floor to the Gilded Age-style stained glass above the main lobby. McDonald even helped name the rooms, most evoking the harbor’s history.

“It’s a delight to stay very close to the story of this pier,” McDonald said. “All you have to do is re-tell it and pay it the historical respect that it deserves.”

The Trib toured the unfinished interior with McDonald, and here is what he says is coming.






This is the main entrance, one of 10 entrances into the building. In the floor, a large letter “A,” made of military steel, is embedded in the concrete floor. The entrance is lit by hand-made Bevolo glass and steel lighting fixtures. Historical photos will hang on the wall.

Visitors can get information provided by the Downtown Alliance, with additional material from the South Street Seaport Museum.

Elevator and glass staircase take visitors to the second floor, with a glass opening to the staircase. McDonald calls this section “a tribute to the Gilded Age—the 1880s and 1890s—with a high level of stained wood finish and stained glass on the ceiling.” He says the area is meant to invite people upstairs, to let them see that Pier A “is not just about down­stairs. There’s also a second level.”

This room is true to its name and, along with the  Oyster Bar at the other end, can hold more than 600 people. McDonald pictures 200 to 300 drinking and eating customers in the informal setting of Pier A’s largest dining room. He plans to hang 170 antique pressure gauges from the ceiling. The dials of the round gauges, once belonging to 19th-century steam­ships, will be retrofitted to light up from the inside. (“If it happened to be St. Patrick’s Day, we might give them a little bit of green tint.”)

The wooden ceiling will be new but, like much of the pier’s interior, will be made to look as old as the pier itself.

“When you walk in,” Mc­Donald says, “it’s going to feel like this could have been here all along.”

Oysters will be served throughout the Long Hall and shucked and steamed at five stations of the oyster bar. At the far west end of this area are the winding stairs that lead to the clock tower. The stairs, not legal for their intended use, will become a glass-enclosed refrigerated “wine tower” three stories high. “It’s going to be one of a kind,” McDonald says.








This room, with its original teak walls, was the setting for Don Corleone’s office in “Godfather II.” “It’s that kind of place you say to the guy at the door, ‘We’re going to be three for the parlor,’” says McDonald. The bar can hold 50 people and opens onto a balcony with a view of the harbor.

There are four private rooms on this floor—Grace, Patrol, New Yorker and Liberty—each named with a local historical reference in mind.

This is an open kitchen with three chef’s tables. McDonald says it’s the only part of the pier that is designed with a contemporary rather than historical look. There is sizable wall space to hang contemporary art from the Hudson Valley. “Why not celebrate local artists?” he asks rhetorically.

Next to the “galley” is a dining room that will have six tables (including one in the galley) but can also seat up to 60 people together.

“It becomes one huge dining table right in the center of the room, which is great,” McDonald said. “You don’t get to do that every day.”

This bar will have a big  stained glass window with the letter “A,” a visible feature of the building’s exterior. The room provides an unusual view up West Street to 1 World Trade Center.


THIRD LEVEL (Not shown)
The third level runs about a third of the length of the pier building and contains a large room for a wide variety of special events.