Seaport Report: February 2016

Acqua Restaurant managing partner Nicholas Berti, left, and Water St. neighbor David Richter enjoy a continental breakfast.
Acqua Restaurant managing partner Nicholas Berti, left, and Water St. neighbor David Richter enjoy a continental breakfast.


Bye Bye Berti… Hard not to notice that Nicholas Berti, the fun, friendly, and lively manager and partner of Acqua Restaurant & Wine Bar, hasn’t been rushing out the door with cheek kisses, happy handshakes, friendly back pats or a Royal hand wave to people passing across Peck Slip or Water Street.

That’s because Niki, as we all know him, made a tough decision around Christmas season — it was time for something new.

So he packed up his new bride — his long-time girlfriend Kathleen Richards — and spent the winter with his two loves: of course the lovely Kathleen, and skiing. They logged a lot of time shushing on the slopes at Belleayre Ski Center and Plattekill Mountain in the Catskill Moutains.

This spring he starts as assistant food and beverage director of the private ski club at Stratton Mountain Resort in VT. “I’m in charge of wine and beer,” he told me. “We host a lot of weddings in the summer and I’m really looking forward to that. “

Berti, who worked in food and restaurants growing up in Italy, came to New York City 11 years ago on a one-way ticket from Tuscany. His first gig as a waiter was at Gnocco in the East Village. He got his real education at Keane’s Steakhouse in Chelsea. “That’s where I really learned everything about the restaurant business. Their training is like earning a degree.”

He came to the Seaport nine years ago, first for four years at Il Brigante, the trattoria that was once on Front Street, as assistant manager. “We were busy from the start,” he remembered.

He signed on as manager at Acqua five years ago and became a partner in 2014.

At both eateries he was a guiding hand, steering the chefs to create delicious, authentic Italian pastas, pizzas and regional dishes. And at both spots he made their casual, rustic looks feel warm and cozy.

Then came Hurricane Sandy.

“It was heartbreaking to see the destruction. We started rebuilding, not knowing what was going to happen to the neighborhood. When I’d come across the Brooklyn Bridge on dark, winter mornings, the whole neighborhood was dark. It was scary.”

At Acqua last fall, he opened the doors in the morning for coffee, croissants and wifi. It was an instant hit with neighbors, tourists and parents dropping their kids at the new Peck Slip School.

“I just want to say goodbye to everyone,” he said. “I wish I could have told everyone in person. I’ll miss them and this wonderful neighborhood.”

Arrivederci, good neighbor!

Towering inferno… Everyone is talking about this slick move. The Howard Hughes Corporation was forced to scale back its dream of a super tower rising from Pier 17 by city officials after lots of local protest. Now another plan is in action and the company scored big.

Last winter, HHC paid $100 million for 80 South St., just outside the designated historic Seaport area. Its plan was to build a 50-foot tower and the City Planning Commission had already approved a 1,000-foot tower at that site.

In August, a Beijing-based company, China Oceanwide Holdings, announced it bought the South Street property. In order to erect a downtown supertall 1,000-foot skyscraper, the Chinese needed more air rights. No problem. HHC owned those too! It bought up all available air rights a while back at rock bottom prices. The City Planning Commission approved the transfer of air rights at the beginning of this month, granting an additional 426,940 square feet of development rights to Oceanwide. The planned building will have 817,784 square feet of floor space, slightly more than half for residential, the rest for retail, office and hotel.

Some locals are amazed at the windfall for HHC — and the audacity. In less than a year, the corporation made nearly $190 million profit!

Learning through history… Local community group Save Our Seaport plans a special meeting to talk about educational and fun opportunities provided by the South Street Seaport Museum. As most readers know, S.S.S.M. already has hugely successful programs for toddlers and preschoolers, such as Mini Mates, but they want to explore more ideas for a wider audience. Parents, residents, waterfront fans, history buffs and all New Yorkers are invited to this S.O.S. meeting on Monday, Feb. 29, 6:30–8:30 pm, at 66 Frankfort St., in the Southbridge Towers’ inner courtyard.

In March, the South Street Seaport Museum kicks off its first major exhibition since Hurricane Sandy — Street of Ships: The Port and Its People.
In March, the South Street Seaport Museum kicks off its first major exhibition since Hurricane Sandy — Street of Ships: The Port and Its People.

Ships Ahoy!… Speaking of the Seaport Museum, next month it launches its first major exhibition since Hurricane Sandy — Street of Ships: The Port and Its People.

The exhibition showcases art and artifacts from the museum’s permanent collection that relate to the 19th Century history of the Port of New York, especially the role of South Street — known as the “Street of Ships” — as the city’s busiest port.

The exhibition’s centerpiece is a look at the life and current restoration of the 1885 full-rigged sailing cargo ship, Wavertree. The big payoff comes in July 2016 once the impressive iron-hulled sailer returns to its home port after a 15-month, $13 million, city-funded restoration.

“It’s a project unlike any undertaken in a generation,” Captain Jonathan Boulware, executive director of the museum, said of the ship’s rebuilding.

Street of Ships: The Port and Its People opens on March 17, 2016, Wednesday – Sunday 11am-5pm, at the Museum’s main lobby, 12 Fulton Street through December. Admission is free for S.S.S.M. Members. Tickets are $12 for adults; $8 for seniors (65+), Merchant Mariners, Active Duty Military, and students (valid ID); $6 for kids (ages 6-17) and free for children ages 5 and under. For more information or to reserve tickets, visit www.southstreetseaportmuseum.org.

Musical notes… Check your calendars for two events by the Knickerbocker Chamber Orchestra. First, on Monday, Feb.29, is the superglam Supreme Justice Soiree-Fundraiser with guests soprano Lucy Shelton and cellist Christine Kim with composer Michael Bacon (also of the Bacon Brothers Band), at Pier A. Go to https://www.knickerbocker-orchestra.org/ to buy tickets or make a donation.

Second is the premiere of two musical pieces: Supreme Justice: The Battle for Gay Rights with music and libretto by KCO director Gary S. Fagin, along with Concerto for Violoncello and Orchestra composed by Michael Bacon and performed by Christine Kim. That’s on Friday, March 18, 7:30 pm, at Pace University’s Michael Schimmel Center for the Arts, 3 Spruce St. Call the box office at 212-346-1715 for tickets.