Welcome to the Tall Ship at Pier One, the Giant Front Porch of the New East Boston
A floating restaurant, and a pop-up adult playground overflowing with rosé have sprung to life on the margins of a rapidly changing neighborhood.
A new East Boston has arrived. If the rapid influx of new housing, buzzworthy bars and restaurants, and young urban professionals hadn’t convinced you of this fact already, the massive pop-up that has sprung to life on Pier One this summer ought to do it.
The centerpiece of this new outdoor gathering space is the new Tall Ship restaurant, an antique 245-foot-long charter boat retrofitted with a bar. The handiwork of the Navy Yard Hospitality Group, it was initially meant to be moored in Charlestown, but has instead settled in Eastie, floating next to a battleship-sized slab of concrete jutting into the harbor.
Atop all this extra space, the Charlie Larner-helmed restaurant group has built an adult playground of sorts. In sum, the pier has been topped with: painted stripes of nautical blue-and-white, an expanse of artificial turf, a few dozen picnic tables and high tops, three designated cornhole arenas, a collection of rentable VIP lounges along the water, and one large pink statue of a camel with the words “save water, drink rosé” written on it. Inside repurposed shipping containers that form a semicircle around all this, you’ll find two full bars, one exclusively serving frozen drinks made with the Kenny Chesney-owned Blue Chair Bay rum, a merch booth, and a food stand selling tacos, lobster rolls, and other fare from NYHG-owned Mija and Pier 6. Even more shipping containers, painted baby blue, have been built into a stage for live performances, and there is space set aside for food trucks to rotate in and out (on a recent Thursday: Chicken and Rice Guys and Sausage Guys). String lights dangle overhead, and in the background, a million-dollar view of the Boston skyline looms large as sail boats and container ships cruise by.
“I think we have one of the best venues in the city right now,” says Sal Boscarino, a partner at the restaurant group. I think he’s right.
For one, there’s the ship itself, the beautiful 245-foot Caledonia, retrofitted with an oyster-shucking station at its bow and a slick new bar running down its spine. For now, it’s only serving shellfish and charcuterie on the deck, but there is ample space in the hull, which Boscarino tells me may one day be converted to private dining rooms.
Just as impressive is the sheer size of the pier itself, and the seemingly limitless ways it could be transformed. There have been tentative discussions about movie nights, art fairs, exercise classes, even pumpkin patches in the fall or a Boston Winter-style pop-up market during the holidays. The plan is to stay here for years, and be in a state of flux the whole time.
The whole experience is similar in many ways to a handful of other pop-ups in recent years, sharing some DNA with the Seaport’s Lawn on D and Cisco Beer Garden, as well as the new Owl’s Nest at Assembly Row. But none have a view like this. That, along with the ease of access to the water and downtown, goes a long way in explaining the sudden surge in interest in the neighborhood overall, why so much has changed in Eastie more or less overnight.
The restaurant group has certainly had a big role to play in that transformation. Its upscale restaurant ReelHouse opened there five years ago, predating a lot of the recent development. Its free water shuttle, which runs between that restaurant and Pier 6—and now The Tall Ship—has helped sell the concept of easy cross-harbor travel, and made Eastie feel closer to the rest of the city. Soon they’ll add another stop at a forthcoming oyster bar on the South Boston Fan Pier.
“When we opened ReelHouse, people were like ‘Oh, East Boston? That’s so far,'” Boscarino recalls. Now, he says, “I think we’re really helping put East Boston on the map.”
The Tall Ship at Pier One had a tough start. Mother Nature has dumped rain on it nearly every day since it debuted just before the Fourth of July holiday weekend. But on a recent balmy Thursday, a big hot sun was finally shining down, and the place was packed.
The vibe was very much Seaport meets the Hamptons. Clientele was heavy on the white pants and pastels, boat shoes and Birks. Many, excited to finally have a dry forecast and something summery to do, seemed dressed for the club. At the same time, it was a noticeably more racially diverse crowd than you might expect given the upscale yacht-club aesthetic, and the Seaport’s less-than-sterling reputation in this regard. Mingling with the stylish 20- and 30-somethings were a handful of families with young kids happily darting around the astroturf, and dancing to the reggae band providing the night’s entertainment.
Geographically, it’s a little disorienting. The pier’s view to the west is swallowed by pristine and nearly identical condo and apartment complexes, meaning the historic Jeffries Point area is completely obscured. It feels a bit like being adrift on a barge.
The experience is also not cheap. Oysters aboard the tall ship go for a steep $4 a pop—you are, after all, aboard a giant beauty of a boat. A pair of (very tasty) tacos from the Mija stand retails for $16, making them easily the priciest you’ll find in a neighborhood better known until recently for authentic Central American cuisine at a bargain. Still, it’s free for anyone nearby to drop in and just chill in the sun, and especially in the late afternoon, plenty of the guests I spied along the pier were doing simply that.
To newcomers, though, an unmistakeable signal is being sent. Later, while waiting in the line for one of the shipping container bars, I struck up a conversation with a 20-something Boston transplant, who said she hadn’t really given Eastie much thought before. But looking around at the swarm of dressed up young people, something suddenly clicked for her: “Should I be living in East Boston right now?” she asked, in a tone that suggested she was sincerely reconsidering her lease in the North End. She said it reminded her, of all places, of Dallas.
The sun was starting to settle behind the skyline, and the string lights dangling overhead and running up the Caledonia‘s masts were gleaming in the twilight. An advertisement to mainlanders on the downtown waterfront, and a beacon of FOMO reaching out across the harbor. On the way out, I tried to count the crowd waiting in line at its entrance, who had come from all over to be here, and lost track at 100.