DRILLINGER DOES is a weekly column that chronicles the exploits of urban daredevil Meagan Drillinger throughout the five boroughs. Every Monday is another adventure — from whiskey tours and no-pants subway rides to sex club date nights.
One of the great symbols of New York is the Emma Lazarus poem inscribed on the Statue of Liberty. “The New Colossus” states, “Give us your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…” beckoning immigrants to come rest in both the safety of America and New York. I sincerely doubt that Ms. Lazarus meant that line to apply to the present day, after-work, post-5 p.m. crowd of New Yorkers who in their tired and flat broke states seek out phenomenal happy hours…but with the opening of Pier A Harbor House in Battery Park, I think poetic license ought to be granted. So when I found myself at said establishment with an unobstructed, private view of the Statue of Liberty herself, sipping a special cocktail mixed for me at an empty, closed-to-the-public section of the bar, my tired, broke-ass self had certainly found solace.
Pier A Harbor House opened in 1886 as the headquarters for the New York Harbor Police and Department of Docks. Later, the house was the VIP entrance for European Ambassadors traveling to Ellis Island. It was also the main station for the Marine Division of the NYC Fire Department. It fell into disarray and disrepair until 2009, when resurrection efforts began under the watchful eye (and padded wallets) of the owners who operate Dead Rabbit. In November 2014, the space opened as a 28,000-square-foot gateway to gastronomy — a multilevel, multisensory experience right at the most southern tip of Manhattan where the mouth of the Hudson River opens out to the sea. Currently open to the public is the first floor, a free-flowing space for casual seafood and pub grub, with a full bar and outdoor promenade. Soon, Pier A will open the second-floor fine dining rooms and the third-floor event space.
I was visiting the Harbor House for a special cocktail-and-Champagne-soaked media preview of the second floor. Members of the media toured the area, winding our way from room to room, stopping for drinks and light bites along the way — from cocktails at the front bar, through the elegant dining rooms where we were presented with wine and beef tartare, onward toward the final bar in the back, where decadent trays of fresh oysters topped with caviar were only outdone in lavishness by the point-blank shot of the Statue of Liberty from the outdoor terrace. For someone whose evenings usually consist of an entire bottle of $9 Malbec and Ritz Crackers, this was a welcome change. How can you compete with Champagne, caviar, and a balcony view of Lady Liberty? Still…I wanted more; I needed to make the night my own.
As the crowd shuffled downstairs, a friend and I lingered back to scope out the stairwell. Sure, we had seen the second floor that was off limits to everyone else, but so did a bunch of other media members…but what about the third floor? The buzzed-and-sated group moved downstairs in a steady hum of conversation as we silently scurried up the stairwell to the third floor. Rounding the corner, we opened up into a brightly lit room with light wooden floors, white walls, big windows…and a fully stocked, unattended bar. Through the windows we had a perfect, private view of the Statue of Liberty as she glowed her faded silvery green through the dark, foggy night. OK, now we were talking.
After drinking in the beautiful view, we were ready to drink in something a little stronger. We eyed the unguarded bar thirstily. I headed to the trap door and swung it up, as a chorus of angels and a heavenly light shone on the black rubber mat that lined the floor at the back of the bar. But before I could take my first step into this fermented fantasy, we heard footsteps scuffing up the stairwell. Heart hammering in my chest as my red hand was guiltily holding up the trap door, we waited with shallow breaths to see who would round the corner. It was Michael, one of the four owners of Pier A, looking at us with a quizzical stare through his rimless glasses, and almost a smirk of approval.
He let out a chuckle and bounded over to the bar. “All right, what are we having?” he asked, much to our culpable relief. Seeing as the only drink I know how to make myself is a glass (bottle) of Malbec, I left the concocting in Michael’s capable hands.
Within seconds, he had poured a bit of this, mixed with a bit of that, added half a can of fresh pineapple juice, and shook until frothy. Into a tumbler he poured his yellow, spumy concoction and handed it to me with a wink. It’s hard to feel too terrible about trespassing when you’re sipping down a pineapple tequila drink in an empty bar staring at one of New York’s icons, while hundreds of other less-in-the-know patrons congregated two floors below. Tired and poor we surely were, but with a view like that, it seemed to matter very little.
Lady Liberty FTW.
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