Via Bon Appétit:
Five years ago, Mark Firth opted out. He packed up his family, moved to Great Barrington, Massachusetts to start a small farm, and left behind the restaurants Diner and Marlow & Sons, and the recently opened butcher shop Marlow & Daughters—all of which were thriving, and all of which he’d co-founded with his buddy and business partner Andrew Tarlow.
When we asked why, he told Bon Appétit that he left because he “needed space,” and wanted to put down roots outside of the city, where actually owning land is an option.
But now, he’s coming back to the city. On a boat.
“The name of the boat is great—Sherman Zwicker—it’s like a tongue-twister,” Firth said over the phone from Prairie Whale, his restaurant in Great Barrington. “But we’re going to call the little oyster bar Grand Banks.”
he Sherman Zwicker is a 142-foot wooden fishing schooner, built in the 1940s to fish the Grand Banks, that Firth and his business partners are turning into a floating oyster bar-slash-maritime museum docked on the southwest tip of Manhattan for the summer. As we spoke, those business partners were prepping the Sherman Zwicker to sail from its current home in Maine to its new home in New York’s Pier 25, a voyage that should take them two days. Firth plans to meet up with them before they get underway and tag along for the trip, to see how his new restaurant handles on the open ocean.
I ask if he considers himself an experienced sailor. “Not at all, that’s the great thing—I have to Google it, ‘how to sail.’”
His business partners are a little better informed. He’s teaming up with Miles and Alex Pincus, two brothers who founded Atlantic Yachting, a sailing school in NYC. And in what seems like typical fashion for anyone who’s ever worked at Diner or Marlow & Sons, the idea for creating a floating restaurant came together casually.
“The idea came up at the gym,” Firth told me, “I work out with Alex.” They’d been kicking around the concept for years, but originally thought it would make more sense to find a barge and then build it out with shipping containers converted into restaurant units—one box for the bar, another for tacos—and maybe even build a projector screen onto the side of the containers to screen movies at night.
But by the time Pincuses found the Sherman Zwicker, they’d rejiggered the idea to be more like a “dive bar-y oyster boat,” according to Firth.
After it makes its way to NYC, the Zwicker has a date with a dock in Brooklyn to get fitted out with the restaurant and bar equipment it’ll need to serve oysters, small sides (charcuterie from Firth’s farm, salads, possibly french fries), and drinks. The plan is to sail the boat into its summer berth in Tribeca by June 1st, open it to the public by the 15th, and stay open until the end of October—the lease at the pier will be up for review at the end of the season, so it’s anyone’s guess where it might go next.
But Grand Banks isn’t just angling to be the nicest party barge in the harbor. Firth and co. have registered as an official non-profit, with proceeds from the oysters and drinks going to help maintain the Zwicker as a floating museum. They’re working with the Hudson River Park Trust to plan its educational programs, and are sourcing their oysters exclusively from New York State.
Which all sounds great, but what happened to getting away from the city and needing some space? And isn’t running a mobile, floating oyster bar pretty much the opposite of putting down roots?
Firth will only be down at the boat a few days a week, he says, dealing with the “logistical nightmare” of running a farm and restaurant while also keeping a new business above water. But to him, the Zwicker and Grand Banks is a kind of perfect compromise.
“The restaurant business is in my blood,” he told me, “so it made sense to me to have something permanent but moveable.” Even if it just becomes a summertime fixture for New Yorkers, Grand Banks isn’t a pop-up, dismantled after a short run. “I just love the idea that this thing can move—maybe it’ll end up in Brooklyn at one point or down to Key West or over to New Orleans.”
But more than anything, Firth says that it was hard to resist doing something new that sounded so cool. “I don’t want to become kind of typecast as that guy who opens restaurants that fit this criteria,” he says. “I want to do something more fun, and diverse.”
So he’s opening an oyster bar on a fully operational museum boat. Duh.