While the USS Intrepid might be the most famous military vessel docked in New York City, it now has some competition in the waters uptown. The USS Baylander, a Vietnam War-era ship famous for once being the world’s smallest aircraft carrier, is now docked at West Harlem Piers near 125th Street. The ship, a fascinating piece of history in its own right, now has another trick up its sleeve: a deckside bar and restaurant that offers completely outdoor seating!
The bar and restaurant is officially named Baylander Steel Beach. “Steel Beach” is a common term used to refer to the deck of a ship, where sailors often eat lunch while out at sea. The restaurant’s design is in line with the naval atmosphere. There are twenty or so picnic tables and umbrellas spread out for guests along the deck. As there is only outdoor seating available, the Baylander is uniquely suited for business during the COVID-19 pandemic while the future of indoor dining remains uncertain. The bar and kitchen are also in outdoor facilities. Both service areas are housed in repurposed cargo containers purchased from the army.
The restaurant is surely unique, and the same can be said for the ship’s unusual history. The Baylander was commissioned in 1968 and served as a practice landing site for helicopter pilots. It was used across all five branches of the military. Stretching only 125 feet, the ship gained a reputation for being the world’s smallest aircraft carrier. It was so small that planes couldn’t even land on it. Its diminutive size did not stop the vessel from having a remarkable military career. The USS Baylander achieved over 120,000 accident-free landings between 1968 when it was first commissioned, to 2011 when private buyers bought it. The ship also covered some serious mileage, first being stationed in Vietnam and Guam before traveling to multiple ports throughout the United States, including Mobile, Alabama and Pensacola, Florida.
While many ships are scrapped after being taken out of service, the Baylander was saved by Michael Trenk, owner of the famous Prohibition club on Columbus Avenue. The new owners first moved the ship to Brooklyn Bridge Park where it opened as a museum in 2014. Then in 2016, the ship was moved to its current location at the West Harlem Piers where the plan to repurpose the deck as a restaurant came into being.
Trenk told the West Side Rag how Baylander Steel Beach’s opening was oddly well-suited for the COVID-19 pandemic. “In this day and age, it’s practically pandemic proof,” Trenk said, “It’s got a nice breeze; it’s completely outdoors, and it’s a large venue where people are not on top of each other. We’re allowing them to come on board and social distance. They need to wear masks if they’re walking around the boat, but at the tables, they can take them off.” He continued by explaining how the new location could act as a sister establishment to his Prohibition Club in midtown and eventually host live musicians.
Baylander Steel Beach is open from 3 p.m to 10 p.m. every Tuesday to Friday, and from 2 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. The menu consists of bar food staples like burgers and buffalo wings, with an additional focus on seafood. Baylander Steel Beach is a unique dining environment but is far from the only place in New York City where you can currently dine outside. Throughout the city, restaurants have been adapting to the pandemic by opening outdoor plazas or closing down entire streets for additional outdoor seating. Even still, many New York City restaurants have closed their doors for good during the pandemic, including historic locations such as the Odessa Diner and La Caridad 78.