By Julie Shapiro
SOUTH STREET SEAPORT — Goodbye sand, hello bratwurst.
The Water Taxi Beach at the South Street Seaport is dropping its tropical seashore theme in favor of an upscale German beer garden, the owners announced this week.
Telly Hatzigeorgiou, who owns the Slate party space in Flatiron, plans to replace the beach with 50 communal tables, along with outdoor Ping-Pong, foosball and billiards. Instead of the gaudy plastic palm trees that ringed the beach the past two summers, Hatzigeorgiou will bring in 25 real pear trees and other plants to create a lush, sheltered oasis facing the Brooklyn Bridge.
"This is a huge improvement," Hatzigeorgiou said as he presented his plans to Community Board 1 Monday night. "It's one of the best views in the city. It just needs landscaping to make it appealing to a more mature crowd."
Hatzigeorgiou, 44, a TriBeCa resident, hopes to launch the revamped 18,000-square-foot, sand-free outdoor restaurant, called Pier Garten, at the beginning of May.
Pier 17's Water Taxi Beach originally opened in 2009 as a public play space for kids during the day and a club-like music venue for the over-21 set at night.
But it consistently lost money under that business model and it was closed much of last summer because New York Water Taxi couldn't afford to pay the staff, said Tom Fox, the company's founder.
"I'm a very good waterfront advocate, but I'm not that good at running restaurants," Fox told CB1's Seaport/Civic Center Committee Monday.
Fox still has three years left on his lease at the Seaport and is trying to recoup his "substantial investment" in the space, he said, so he turned to Hatzigeorgiou to try a more community-focused destination. Fox likened the new Pier Garten, which will also host private parties and corporate events, to the popular Biergarten at The Standard hotel in the Meatpacking District.
The restaurant's preliminary menu includes German staples like bratwurst, along with a range of beers, Hatzigeorgiou said.
While some neighborhood residents were pleased to hear Monday night that the space was getting a makeover, others lamented the beach's disappearance.
"It was a space where the community could come and sit on the beach," said John Fratta, chairman of CB1's Seaport/Civic Center Committee. "I have a real problem with losing this amenity for the community."
Paul Hovitz, a member of the committee, said he didn't want to have to buy something just to hang out on the north side of Pier 17 and enjoy the view of the Brooklyn Bridge.
In response to the concerns, Hatzigeorgiou agreed to add several benches around the perimeter of the space that will be available to people even if they don't purchase food or drink from the restaurant.
Board members also wanted Hatzigeorgiou to agree to shut off his music at midnight on weekdays and 1 a.m. on weekends, but he has not decided if he is willing to do that yet.
The committee took an advisory vote 6 to 2 to oppose the license unless Hatzigeorgiou meets those conditions.