SOUTH STREET SEAPORT — Surrounded by drills, sawdust and buckets of paint, Jason Connolly worked feverishly this week to reopen Fresh Salt, his Seaport bar and cafe, which has been closed since Hurricane Sandy.
Workers have been hammering away for more than 12 hours a day to repair the damage from the storm, which sent over 7 feet of murky floodwaters pouring into the bar.
Connolly, 38, said he hoped to reopen his popular spot Wednesday night at 8, but if the repairs aren't done in time, the goal is to get drinks flowing by the end of the week.
“We’re just very focused on getting the lights on and giving people someplace familiar to go,” said Connolly, who owns the bar with two other partners. “Bring some more life back into the neighborhood.”
Much of the devastated Seaport remains shuttered in the wake of Sandy as owners struggle to bring heat and power back to old buildings that were flushed with waves of salty water.
Connolly said he needed to wait more than two weeks just to let the cozy, brick-lined place on Beekman Street between Front and Fulton streets dry out before even thinking of reconstructing the bar.
Despite losing all their liquor and food — well over $100,000 worth of goods — Connolly said he and the other owners consider themselves lucky.
“At least we’re in a position to get ourselves serving customers again,” Connolly said. “That’s not what many of my neighbors are facing.”
Connolly said he also has the benefit of working with a building owner who’s a co-owner of the bar as well. Many local businesses in the historic neighborhood, which dates back to the 18th century, have said they are grappling with landlord negotiations as they fight to get their restaurants and shops functioning.
Fresh Salt is located in a building that was once home to a fish smokehouse. Its name comes from the faded “Fresh, Salt and Smoked Fish” painted on the brick exterior of the 19th-century building.
Connolly said he and co-owner Sara Williams decided to launch Fresh Salt when they worked as bartenders at the Lower East Side’s Mercury Lounge eight years ago.
“This bar would have been a dime-a-dozen in the East Village,” Connolly said. “But here, they didn’t have a little neighborhood place like this.”
When they opened in 2004, the Fulton Fish Market, which has since moved to Hunts Point in The Bronx, was right across the street. Fresh Salt used to open at 8 a.m. to sell drinks and food to the fish hawkers finishing their overnight shifts.
“It was a stranger, smellier place then,” Connolly said with a laugh. “But it was great.”
Connolly, like most business owners trying to stay in the neighborhood, hopes the Seaport will come back even stronger in the coming months and years.
But for now, he just wants to get the word out that Fresh Salt is coming back.
"We'll be open soon," Connolly said. "Hopefully more and more people can say that in the neighborhood soon too."