By Salvatore Isola
Last week, there were three ways to cross the East River: by sitting in car traffic to cross a bridge, by cramming into a hot subway, and by voyaging in a luxury boat.
Stella Artois provided New Yorkers with an experience where a standard commute home was transformed into an unforgettable nautical ride.
This event, called the East River Riviera, provided 20-minute, one-way commutes in New York Harbor between ONE°15 Brooklyn Marina in Brooklyn Bridge Park and North Cove Marina in Battery Park City.
Stella fully embraced the Riviera theme. Their fleet consisted of four vintage Riva-style wooden boats that seated no more than six. The captains of each sported black and white striped Polo shirts, and each of the stops featured immersive theming.
The East River Riviera is part of Stella’s summer marketing campaign, “Summer Like You’re On Vacation.” On why Stella decided to undertake this campaign, Lacey Clifford, Communications Director at Anheuser-Busch, said “We thought, ‘What a more fun way would be than to elevate New Yorkers’ commute on the hot, sweaty subway, and in favor of these luxurious European vacation vibes on our very glam Riva boats?’”
Clifford explained that Stella was deciding on a theme that mimicked “the feeling you get when you’re out here on this beautiful dock,” at sunset and surrounded by water and luxurious buildings. And of course there was a large European influence, since Stella is a Belgian lager.
“The Riviera made sense because [this location] had a lot of those same elements,” Clifford said. “It was an aspirational location for a lot of people, but maybe they’ve never been [a European riviera], so now is their chance.”
For people who chose Brooklyn as their starting point, their experience began on a large pier decorated in Stella logos and striped red and white colors. A four-piece jazz band with guitars and clarinets played relaxing tunes that were only broken by the occasional honking, a reminder that this event still took place in New York.
When a boat pulled up, Stella employees would direct the next party to the vessel, and after a brief safety instruction, off they went.
The boats slowly exited the marina, providing unobstructed views of the Lower Manhattan skyline. Captains then upped gears and sped over the waves of New York Harbor, passing docks and other boats in the journey to Manhattan’s western waterfront.
Following the ride, guests were invited to a larger, docked vessel offering small bites and Stella beverages, allowing them to further enjoy being on the water.
While a linear trip from Brooklyn to the Wall Street ferry would have been significantly shorter in length and therefore allowed more riders, Stella decided to end at the North Cove Marina by Vesey Street. This allowed guests to have an immersive experience instead of a rushed shuttle.
“There were a lot of other marinas down there,” Clifford said. “But we thought once people got on these boats, they want to have that vacation experience just a little while longer. We didn’t want people to feel maybe they had come all this way and the ride is over in five seconds. We have a nice, leisurely, 20-minute ride.”
As with any limited, unique experience in New York, the free tickets for the event went quick, selling out in minutes. For Clifford, this was a relief.
“Any time you start something, you’re never sure what the response is going to be,” she said. But after seeing how fast reservations went, “That’s when we sort of realized, maybe we have something here.”
The East River Riviera was Stella’s first time hosting an event like this, and the reception has been overwhelming positive.
“I would definitely prefer taking a Riviera boat when I work in Manhattan every day,” said Riviera commuter Thomas Sullivan. “It beats the everyday traffic on the streets.”
Captain Vincent Mattiola of the Bagheera boat recalled being pleasantly surprised when one of his passengers, an older woman from Italy, requested that he drive the boat as fast as he could.
“The best part are people who have never been on the water before, who have never even been on a boat like this before,” Mattiola said. “So for them to tie this to experience Stella, to the brand, every time they go on New York Harbor, [and] they see the water, they will think of Stella.”
For Clifford, the response she has heard from guests is that they had forgotten that Manhattan is on an island and that New York is surrounded by so much water.
“Isn’t it amazing that you get to change up your perspective and get on this boat and think, ‘oh my gosh I’m seeing my city in such a different way,’ almost as a tourist would, almost as if you’re on vacation,” Clifford said.
The fleet Stella used for this event were all Riva-style boats. Three of the boats were original Chris-Craft boats, made by the Florida company that pioneered the style, “loving restored” from the 1950s, Clifford said. They have new engines that allow them to brace the often-choppy waters of New York Harbor.
The fourth boat, the Bagheera, driven by Mattiola, is the “Rolls-Royce of our fleet.” It was built in 2008, designed in the 1960s Riva style. It is the biggest, carrying up to six plus the captain.
Mattiola said that he has driven similar vessels but only on lakes. The difference, he noticed, is that “on the lakes [with] flat water, the boat tends to throw the water off to the sides, [since] that’s how she’s designed,” but in New York Harbor, the boat has to ride atop the waves. He said that the larger size of the boat allows it to ride nicely, enthusiastically adding that he would “absolutely” captain the vessel again if asked.
As for the three restored boats, Clifford said, “you really feel the world is your oyster when you ride one.”
When asked why New Yorkers should opt for Stella next time they are looking for a refreshing beverage, Clifford said “When you have a beer like Stella Artois…[which might] cost a little bit more, [and] be a little bit more special, sometimes people might have a tendency to save that item for a special occasion. What we want to do is remind people that, yes we are a special beer, but we’re a special beer that makes any occasion a little bit more fun.”
“We are continuing that idea of changing up your usual, which really means with just a small change in perspective, you can have such a better experience than you even know you would,” Clifford said.
Stella, meaning “star” in Latin, has over 600 years of heritage, first being created in Leuven, Belgium as one man’s holiday gift for his village.
As for what this means for next summer and future events, Clifford held her tongue, only saying, “you’ll have to wait and see.”