Greenpoint’s Brooklyn Barge Bar will be a hub of water-related activities starting next spring

October 7, 2015 By Lore Croghan Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Drinks Ahoy at Greenpoint's Brooklyn Barge Bar. Eagle photos by Lore Croghan

Eye On Real Estate

There are Brooklynites in landlocked neighborhoods who never spend time on the water.

Matt Perricone and his buddies want to change that.

After a delay, they’ve turned a barge in the East River off Greenpoint into a bar — which will be open daily until Oct. 31, then take a cold-weather hiatus until May 1.

Starting next spring, Brooklyn Barge Bar (BBB) will also serve as a venue for kayaking and sailing lessons, stand-up paddle boarding tours of the East River and fishing clinics and a spot where historic vessels and ships with educational programs will stop by. The goings-on will be a combination of free programming and paid activities.

“We’re here to connect people to the water,” Perricone, a BBB partner, said in a recent interview. In addition to the bar on the barge, there’s an open-air onshore restaurant on a portable wooden deck at 3 Milton St., right alongside the barge. The bar and restaurant both opened on Sept. 25.

They are located next to Transmitter Park.

The barge was built on the Delaware River in 1942 by the Pennsylvania Railroad for offloading cargo.

By the way, Perricone and his business partners can’t legally charge people money to board the barge. Buy a drink and a bite to eat if you wish, but it’s not required.

You can simply sit and take in the jaw-dropping views of 1 World Trade Center, the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building, the United Nations, Citigroup Center and other icons of the Manhattan skyline.

Perricone, 34, told Eye on Real Estate that the opening of Brooklyn Barge Bar was delayed because it took longer than anticipated to get a permit from the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). He and his business partners had hoped to open their waterfront venue this past May.

The DEC permit is good through the end of 2017.

Perricone is a tugboat captain and entrepreneur with a facilities engineering degree from SUNY Maritime in the Bronx. He has a U.S. Coast Guard license as a marine engineer and a master of towing (tugboat captain) license.

Business partner Tom Morgan is an honorably discharged military veteran and a retired New York City firefighter with a decade of experience in bar and restaurant operations.

Will Drawbridge, BBB’s general manager, has nearly two decades of experience in managing and building restaurants, mostly waterside ones. He is a part-owner of the John J. Harvey, a historic decommissioned fireboat that was used to pump water on the remains of the destroyed World Trade Center for 80 hours after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.


‘Social entrepreneurship’ on the waterfront

Carolina Salguero, who turned the Mary A. Whalen, a historic decommissioned oil tanker, into a museum and floating cultural center berthed at Red Hook’s Pier 11, sees kindred spirits in Perricone and his business partners.

PortSide NewYork, the 501(c)3 nonprofit she created that operates the Mary A. Whalen and advocates for a more ship-friendly city, and Brooklyn Barge Bar “exist on the spectrum of what is social entrepreneurship,” she said via email.

On that spectrum, BBB is one of the “businesses that want to do good and engage in activities that people think of as non-profity,” Salguero said.

Salguero and the Mary A. Whalen were featured in an August installment of Eye on Real Estate.


‘Safety is paramount’

Perricone and his business partners have been paying rent since March on a strip of land that stretches 180 feet along the shoreline and is 35 feet wide. Waterfront access comes with the lease. Their landlord, Jack Guttman, owns water rights 400 feet out into the river.

They’ve got a trial lease just for the season, and are now negotiating a lease extension.

Operating the restaurant and bar for the month of October will generate much-welcome revenue.

“Financially, we just have to try to stay alive for the next few weeks,” Perricone said.

When BBB’s owners were seeking a liquor license, opponents kept saying drinkers could fall into the river.

“There was a lot of fearmongering. That has gone away,” Perricone said.

The barge has waist-high fencing around its deck.

Moreover, “we have experienced bartenders. We have experienced managers. We are experienced mariners. We know how to keep customers safe,” he said.

“Safety is paramount.”

At a Community Board 1 meeting last March, a Greenpoint resident predicted that the bar’s customers would urinate in Transmitter Park, the Brooklyn Paper reported.

That needn’t happen — BBB’s owners have rented a bathroom trailer with one handicapped stall, three stalls for women and one stall for men plus three urinals. They built an Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant ramp for access to the handicapped stall.

What about the possibility that music being played outdoors will bother the neighbors?

Perricone said BBB’s liquor license stipulates that the owners keep the volume down on the music, which dovetails with what they had in mind for the bar.

“From Day One, we wanted a low-key, relaxed atmosphere,” he said.

The liquor license also requires Brooklyn Barge Bar to close at 1 a.m. Many Greenpoint bars stay open until 2 a.m., others until 4 a.m.


Spuds and a drawbridge

Visitors can get to the barge by walking down a block of Milton Street that looks like an alley hemmed in by industrial buildings but opens onto the shoreline. Or they can walk to the end of Greenpoint Avenue and down a pathway through Transmitter Park.     

Visitors board the barge by crossing a 35-foot-long drawbridge that Perricone and a friend built in Kingston, N.Y., Perricone’s maritime home base on the Hudson River in Ulster County. That’s where he keeps the Cornell, a historic tugboat he owns.

The barge is held in place in the East River by three retractable “spuds,” which are doubled-up rectangular steel I-beams that extend from the vessel down through 15 feet of  riverbed mud. The spuds sank into the mud through the force of gravity. Pile drivers, which would have caused more of an environmental disturbance, were not needed.

The barge was placed perpendicular to the shoreline to minimize the impact of the wakes from ferry boats coming and going from the nearby India Street ferry pier.

He and the crew, some long-time friends and family members sledgehammered, jackhammered and shoveled 25 tons of asphalt off the deck of the barge — which belongs to Perricone — and replaced it with 55,000 pounds of concrete. The concrete is more comfortable for bar customers to stand on and is a better insulator for generators and walk-in cold-storage boxes that are stowed below the deck.

About 150 visitors can fit onto the barge deck. At the onshore restaurant, there is seating for 199 people.

If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind? (Yes, we borrowed that line from Shelley)

After the bar finishes its brief inaugural season, the barge will head up the Hudson River by Nov. 15 to spend the winter in Kingston.

The work and worry from trying to open Brooklyn Barge Bar have been wearying.

“I feel like I’m going to take a month this winter and just sleep,” Perricone said.

In reality, he might not have all that much time to rest. When the weather is really cold, he and that tugboat of his, the Cornell, get hired for ice-breaking jobs on frozen waters.

Perricone said the inspiration for opening a bar on a barge came from the late John Krevey.

Krevey rescued an abandoned floating lighthouse called the Frying Pan from the mud of Chesapeake Bay and brought it to New York. He paired it with a 350-foot barge and created a restaurant on the Hudson River in Chelsea that’s still in operation today.