picture this—you're on a refurbished pier along the Lower Hudson River seated in a lounge chair, iced beverage in hand, as the New York City skyline glows a crimson gold from the fading light of a summer sunset. Thanks to Darren Conway this dreamlike scenario has become a reality. Darren, alongside his Managing Partner Rebecca Tarantino, has spent the last few years working to bring a lively, summer retreat to the Hoboken waterfront in the form of Pier 13. Read on as Darren walks us through the history + inspiration for Pier 13, as well as improvements for this season!
hg: what was the inspiration for creating a space such as Pier 13 in Hoboken? Did you gain any ideas/inspiration from the various public spaces popping up in/around NYC?
darren: Rebecca + I had operated the Chandelier Room at the W Hotel in Hoboken for years. We ventured off to do our own project and pretty much came up with the Pier. We pitched an idea, it worked and little by little it grew and it has become our “Neighborhood Backyard.” Since we’re in such an urban area, not many people have backyards or terraces. This is a great place to bring your children, your dog and have a family fun day out. It’s also great for different demographics of people, not just for twenty-somethings, which has helped us become as popular as we are.
The original inspiration for the pier was to do a crab shack/house with picnic tables, Maryland-style crabs + beer. There was a little too much risk to reward doing seafood, and since food trucks had just started becoming really big in NYC, we figured we'd try to reach out to them. Some of the original food trucks are still a part of our family to this day.
The High Line was inspirational in the sense that we liked the outdoor aspect of it, but the Frying Pan (docked boats, a barge) gave us the inspiration to see if we can do something similar, but incorporate a beer garden + food trucks as well.
hg: what was the pier used for prior to Pier 13's arrival in 2012?
darren: the pier was (and still is used as) the Shipyard Marina. The boathouse, which we operate the pier out of, was used more like a clubhouse for the marina + boarding members. Once we pitched the idea and incorporated the Shipyard Marina + its members into the Pier 13 atmosphere, it was well received. People like Pier 13 because they have a place to go, whereas before it was just a clubhouse with a couple tvs + a bar inside.
"This is something that people can really enjoy; bring their boat to the dock, have fun with their friends then go back out onto the water."
hg: what types of amenities does the Pier offer to the Hoboken residents + visitors?
darren: we’re pretty heavy on the water activities. We have jet ski rentals, daily kayaking + standup paddle boards. We also do a cruise around Ellis Island + the Statue of Liberty. All of the events + activities are hosted by third parties. On a weekly basis we try to do some sort of fun activity and keep the customers engaged with what’s going on.
hg: has Pier 13 helped boost Hoboken’s attractiveness to those traveling to or through the area?
darren: the first season we were open it was a more Hoboken base since not many people knew about us—we didn’t advertise. Everything that we’ve done has been social media driven or just grassroots word-of-mouth. We started seeing the regulars from Hoboken, then people coming from as far as Philly, Western New Jersey + Northern New Jersey. We became more of a destination spot (which is great for us) versus just a “pop over for a beer and go home,” spot. We noticed people will now stay for lunch, have some drinks, maybe relax a bit on the lawn + get a sun tan, and then maybe have dinner, a few more cocktails, listen to some music, play some games (we offer board games on the tables). It's great to see people stay at the pier for an extended period of time.
hg: what types of events can you facilitate on the pier? Is it available for private rental?
darren: we do not host private events, however, we do host corporate outings (available Monday through Friday, between 12-4PM). We decided not to do private events since we always want to be open for the public —that way people don’t come all the way up and find out that we’re closed.
"The pier was not made to be an event space; it was made to be enjoyed by the public, so that’s the way we kept it."
Each year, every day of the week has a different "theme." For example: on Mondays, we didn’t have much happening so we bought a nine-hole, real deal, mini-golf course. Now we host “Mini-Golf Monday,” where we’ll have different scorecards for different age groups to make it a little more fun + challenging. It brings more bonding, more of a morale booster. Tuesday’s we do a movie night with a huge 35-foot inflatable screen showing only 80’s + 90’s movies. Wednesday’s we do “Slice the Price,” which is 50% off all drinks. Thursday we have live, acoustic bands. Friday, Saturday + Sunday we mix it up with a bunch of different, fun activities.
hg: how did the public receive Pier 13 when it first opened in 2012?
darren: I think at first people didn’t really understand what it was, that it was something we were doing for just one summer. Now I’ve seen families with one child this summer, then the next they’ve got another kid or a dog. Maybe they moved out of town and are coming back because they love the space so much. We’ve definitely connected with our clientele which is great. Not a lot of people can connect with that many people + I think that we’ve been able to not only draw a good crowd, but keep them engaged—that’s something I pride my team on. I think they’ve done a great job doing that.
hg: do you see this type of public space not only in Hoboken but in North Jersey as a whole?
darren: I don’t know. It’s really hard to say. I think it depends on the municipalities + the cities as to what they will allow. Since this is a privately owned space we were able to do something a little bit different, but when you get into public spaces there is a little more push back because people don’t want to see public parks turned into bars or restaurants or orchestrated staging events.
hg: there are TONS of food trucks on site + your drink selection is well stocked with craft brews. Tough question for you—which are your personal favorite of each?
darren: I don’t want anyone to get mad at me (laughs). My favorite beer would be the 21st Amendment Watermelon WheaT—a watermelon beer, light, super good. I think we were the first to make that kind of beer popular. I don’t think anybody ever thought watermelon and beer would go together, but it’s delicious + probably one of our biggest sellers. My favorite food truck is Luke’s Lobster. The reason is because Luke’s came in and it was something different + unique. Not many people were able to get lobster rolls in the tri-state area, especially in Hoboken (and is also one of our biggest sellers). Next would probably be Pizza Vita— Ernesto and the team do a phenomenal job with a personal pizza that you can get in 90 seconds.
hg: how are these trucks chosen to vend (first come, activation fee, lottery, etc.)? Do the options rotate regularly?
darren: when we first started out we asked people to be a part of this project. Since NYC was so busy and such a big money maker, most of the New York guys wouldn’t come to New Jersey. So now here we are having to find New Jersey guys, which isn’t easy because we’re a small town + most people here have restaurants, not food trucks. We started out with only about five guys, but now we’re up to I think 42 different trucks. At the end of each year, you submit your application for whatever food truck you may have. We look it over in the winter and start finding out more about that truck. If we find that it’s a good product, we schedule them to be a part of the pier. In February we give out the complete schedule so that we’re the first to be a part of their programming for the summer.
That’s what's great about the pier — they’ve let us become their go-to. We also don’t double up on any food either. If there’s one pizza guy, there’s one pizza guy. If there’s one taco guy, that’s it. We don’t have three taco companies and three different taco trucks. We keep it to one of each and make sure we have the best of that food.
hg: what would you say is your volume of visitors on busy days?
darren: it can really vary. Throughout the course of the day, just coming through the pier itself can hit up to 2,000 people just walking through.
hg: to you, what would be the perfect day at Pier 13?
darren: I think the best part is seeing so many friends that you haven’t seen in a while, or people who are congratulating us saying, “Wow, I’m having such a great time!” It’s really the camaraderie of going there, knowing that you’ve done a great job and there are that many people enjoying themselves...
...it’s rewarding to know you’ve done something not only for the community, but it’s something unique and different that not many people can duplicate."
Anybody can open up a bar in town or have great food, but to have this type of entity is a once in a lifetime opportunity because the piers typically don’t come up for sale.
The perfect day for me is to be able to enjoy it with my family + friends, hang out and just take in that view. You can’t beat that view of the skyline. Having people come in on their boats, or your friends who may not normally be able to go out because they have children, can come out and enjoy that family atmosphere.
hg: do you have anything special planned for this upcoming season? If so, could you share any of those plans with us?
darren: we have a couple things up our sleeve this year, but I don’t want to mention yet what it would be. Although it could be something with a major radio station. We’re working on a pretty big thing right now…
hg: are there any improvements you’re looking to make to Pier 13 as it continues to grow in popularity?
darren: right now the marina is our number one improvement. We're working to put down brand new docks with electricity and running water. I believe we will have 40 slips this year which is great because we’ve never had that "dock + dine" kind of service. We’ve had to turn so many people away—whether it’s from Brooklyn or maybe the Palisades area. It will be exciting to see how the boaters embrace us this year. When you have a boat you’re always thinking, “Where can we go with the boat?” Going up and down the river gets boring + there’s not many places that allow you to dock a boat for a day. Brooklyn used to do it, but I don’t believe they do anymore since that got knocked out in Hurricane Sandy.
We always try to reinvent the pier every year. We try to play with our logos, which is the 'P13R' — reinventing it with new colors or a new twist on it. Keeping it fresh. We try to add in new giveaways or new merchandise each year. This year’s theme + hashtag is #PierPressure. We always try to keep it different.