The South Street Seaport has lived many lives. Located where Fulton Street dead-ends, at the East River, this historic district got its start as a port in 1625. In the intervening years, it’s been home to everything from a celebrated—if heavily Mobbed up—fish market to a drinking site for 1980s-era Gordon Gekko types.
Now, as the neighborhood around the district is in the midst of a multi-billion-dollar redevelopment, this once gritty section of Lower Manhattan is getting its own tony members’ club in the Battery Maritime Building with Casa Cipriani, a division of the Venice-based restaurateurs.
The idea is to bring like-minded lovers of pleasure and culture together in one good-looking place, which not only features its own jazz bar and restaurant but also 47 rooms and suites. Those seeking sweat, massages, and youth management will appreciate the very ‘21’ spa-and-wellness center. (Don’t worry—there are still plenty of indulgences. We’re talking about the family that created the Bellini, after all.)
Membership to Casa Cipriani is a by-invitation-only affair, but for the moment dues are relatively modest, to the tune of $3,600 a year for a single and $5,400 for a couple. Lifetime and wellness-only memberships are also on offer.
The project is being masterminded by 32-year-old Maggio Cipriani, a fourth-generation member of the family that has been known by world travelers ever since Giuseppe Cipriani Sr. opened up Harry’s Bar, right off the Grand Canal, in 1931. Born in Bologna, Maggio grew up between Venice, Ravenna, and Milan, cutting his teeth working at his family’s outposts all around the world. He formally joined the company 10 years ago to expand its footprint in the United States, and in addition to opening up new Cipriani branches, he and his brother, Ignazio, also put their own spin on hospitality with Mr. C Hotels, which are solid places to stay in Los Angeles, Lower Manhattan, and Coconut Grove, Florida.
But for the past few years, along with architect Thierry W. Despont and Marvel architects, Maggio has been focused on reimagining the Battery Maritime Building. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976 but had been mostly used as office space until the family and their partners got to work.
Part of the reason they were attracted to the property is that it has such a strong legacy to draw from—the building was originally designed as a ferry terminal by architects Richard Walker and Charles Morris, and in addition to its three ferry slips, it was embellished with an embarrassment of Beaux Arts details: rosettes, ceramic and painted tiles, stamped zinc and copper, and walls painted in pink stucco.
The over-the-top waiting room occupied 55,000 square feet, and for passengers waiting for a ride, it was a marvel, thanks to a soaring, 62-foot ceiling and elaborately designed stained glass. Now it will serve as a primary stomping ground for Cipriani South Street, the family’s latest event space. Blissfully, this part of the development is open to the public.
Ashley Baker is the Style Editor for Air Mail