Alex and Miles Pincus refer to Holywater, their new bar below the sidewalks of TriBeCa, as their first “land bar” in New York City.
It’s not a strange distinction when you consider that every bar the brothers and bar owners have opened in New York up until this point has been seasonal, either near or on the water. There’s Island Oyster on the waterfront on Governors Island, and Drift In, which sits in Hudson River Park. Others are physically on boats: Grand Banks was built on top of a 1942 schooner that’s anchored at Pier 25 in the same park; Pilot, moored off Brooklyn Bridge Park’s Pier 6, is named after the 1924 Massachusetts-built vessel that it does business on.
“Boats and drinking,” Alex Pincus said. “My two hobbies.”
Holywater, which will open in early May, might be landlocked, but it still has the maritime character that marks all Pincus ventures. The walls are covered with nautical artifacts from their vast personal collection, including photographs of the brothers on various decks, paintings of crusty sailors, the transom of the 1932 schooner Brilliant and a hammerhead shark Alex bought on eBay.
The Pincuses have built their businesses — and their lives — around the water.
When he was 12 years old, Miles Pincus attended a sailing camp in New Orleans, where the brothers grew up, and fell in love with the sport. Well before he had a driver’s license, he bought an old sailboat for $500, rebuilt it using how-to books and sold it for $1,400.
“I was always a kind of scrappy entrepreneur as a kid,” he said.
Alex forged his own path to the water. When he was 12, he was sent to a camp in North Carolina where he learned to kayak and sail, and he eventually went on a number of white-water expeditions around the world.
The New Orleans hotels where their father, Ronald, worked were their playgrounds and second homes (he’s now the vice president and chief operating officer of the historic Hotel Monteleone). In that lenient city, they experienced bar life from a young age.
Holywater is meant to evoke what they miss most about their favorite hometown saloons. The cocktail list is a combination of New Orleans-oriented drinks (Arnaud’s special cocktail, Roffignac) and global classics (Rob Roy, sidecar and the Old Pal, a Negroni variation that is Alex’s go-to).
“We really wanted to bring it back to the way we grew up drinking and hanging out in bars, where there’s an unknown,” Alex said. “You don’t know what’s going to happen exactly. It’s esoteric and interesting and dark and sometimes it’s seedy.”
The brothers’ affinities for surf (boats) and turf (bars) became one pursuit when the two moved to New York for school — and stayed. In 2006, the two started Atlantic Yachting, a company that offers sailing camp for kids, sailing lessons for adults and sailboat charters. Piloting parties up and down the Hudson, they’d gaze at the Manhattan shore and think about how much fun the people on the waterfront were having.
One year, Alex held his birthday party onboard the Clipper City, a ship Miles had rebuilt. Too many people showed up, making the boat unsafe sailing and keeping festivities dockside.
“He and I kind of joked about it afterward,” Miles said. “’We should just have a boat that doesn’t go anywhere!’ Everyone’s favorite part of the trip is sitting at the dock having a drink at the end of the day.”
And so were planted the seeds of Grand Banks, Pilot and the rest. But Holywater, their subterranean Reade Street bar, doesn’t mean the Pincus brothers have turned their backs on ship-deck bars. They purchased a New York Fire Department fire boat at a city auction several years ago — and are building a bar on it.
All these years later, their father is still surprised that his sons entered his profession.
“I was quite taken back that they would approach food and beverage, which to me is one of the hardest businesses to be in,” Ronald Pincus said.
Alex shrugs it off as inevitable.
“Usually people who like boats like to drink,” he said, “for better or worse.”
Holywater, 112 Reade Street, crewny.com/holywater, no phone.