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The Cheapest Bar in New York

Photo by: Norbert Nagel

The Cheapest Bar in New York

Beer on the Staten Island Ferry

I don’t actually want to drink the day I take the Staten Island Ferry. I’m feeling vaguely queasy and my sweet tooth has been screaming for fruit juice the entire workday; beer feels like an imposition.

“But you have to drink on the Staten Island Ferry,” my friend told me. “It’s the cheapest bar in New York!”

The Staten Island Ferry lives a double life. On the one hand, it is one of the primary links between New York’s forgotten, suburban borough and the metropolis to which it is connected. Each ferry can fit thousands of people; the service carries 75,000 people every day. On the other hand, it is also a key tourist attraction. The ferry passes by the various famous sights of New York Harbor and the city’s skyline for the price of … zero. In a famously expensive city, it is also a steal.

It is also a bar. The “snack bar” on the ferry sells some of the cheapest beer in New York: three and a half dollars for a giant can of admittedly lowbrow beer. On Saturday nights, those who cannot afford the languorous and tacky nightlife of New York crowd the ferry, flirting and drinking on the decks. During the week, tired businessmen lean back in their suits as they sit and sip a can of lager.

I still don’t feel like taking advantage of this offer as I board the ferry on the way out. I arrive, I eat a cheap dinner in the neighborhood of the ferry terminal, and I board the ferry back. In the opposite direction of peak travel, the boat is almost deserted. The man behind the counter in the “snack bar” looks lonely. I go up to him and ask for a small can of beer. Any beer.

He hands me a can of Foster’s and I hand him a few dollar bills. I take the can and walk to the upper deck, by a window facing Manhattan’s brightly lit nighttime skyline. I open the can of beer and take a sip. Definitely not a night for drinking, I think. It is a mediocre beer I could get at any bar from Tottenville to Pelham Bay Park. But then I look up at the skyline: magnificent, artistic, and better than any bar’s décor.

This isn’t so bad, I think.

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