RIP: Fulton Fish Market

In November ’05, Manhattan’s historic Fulton Fish Market left its home at the South Street Seaport for new pastures in the Bronx, ending an incredible 183 year run.  Since 1822, the market has been one of the most important wholesale fish markets in the country, where fresh fish of literally every variety are available.

New Fish - 01

The buildings are now empty and forgotten, used only for parking. One has landmark status, but it’s very unclear what’s going to happen to them.

New Fish - 02

New Fish - 03

Not that impressive, right? Just a couple of empty cement warehouses?

In 2002, someone very intelligently recommended that I take a trip down to the market, and I’m eternally grateful to this person now knowing that it didn’t have long for the world. I biked down with a friend at around 3 AM, and had one of the most memorable experiences of my time living in New York. I was totally blown away by this small pocket of intense energy thriving in the early morning hours hidden below the FDR.

Anyway, I was recently scouting in the South Street Seaport area, and was really shocked by how dead the empty market buildings now feel, considering how alive they had once been. I wanted to share some of my pictures from that night in 2002 in memory of the old fish market:

Fish - 01

This is the interior of one of the main markets, seen empty in the third picture of this post.

Fish - 05

Some enormous fish:

Fish - 06

More fish:

Fish - 08

Still more fish…

Fish - 09

Fish unhappy to be in a box of ice:

Fish - 10

Pink fish with really neat green stripes down the side:

Fish - 11

This is the market in the second picture of this post:

Fish - 12

In addition to the main market buildings, several private vendors operated out of storefronts across the street. It blows me away to think that fish have probably been sold at these locations continually since the 1800s. Up until the 1950s, docks actually moored nearby in the East River to unload fish.

Fish - 03

Fish - 04

When the market left, an era came to an end. The reasons were understandable – more space in the Bronx, way closer to the interstates, more hygienic conditions, modern freezers to regulate temperature a bit better than ice…It’s one of those unfortunate inevitables of progress.

But I wanted to post this in memorium of what once was…

Fish - 02

…and now is:


PS: According to Wikipedia, it is possible for fish to be rushed from fishing ports in New England to wholesale buyers at the Fulton Fish Market, who might then resell it to retail markets and restaurants in the very same towns where the catch originated.

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  1. shocking & horrific! It’s really a shame to see such history/nostalgia-rich landmarks (even if they aren’t deemed landmarks per se) just sit there and waste like rot-land.

  2. Ha! I love the shadowy figure in the third picture. I wish I had lived in NYC at the time this was still running, I absolutely would’ve gone down there before dawn. Nothing like the smell of fish in the morning!

  3. Oh gosh, thank you so much for posting these photos. Weekend trips to the Fulton Fish Market, followed by lunch at Sweet’s, was a feature of my family’s life when we first moved east in the late ’60s. It’s heartbreaking to see the desolation where once there was such thriving industry. Like you, Scout, I understand the reasons for the move…but I still can’t accept it.

  4. That neat pink fish with the green stripe is actually known as a Yellowtail Snapper!

  5. Seaport’s certainly not the same, but there is still a lot of neat stuff around there. The Con Edison Trompe L’oeil on Peck Slip, for example.

  6. you know they moved to hunt’s point for better prostitutes don’t you? they got tired of the trannies and wanted more of the crack-ho type. 🙂 love this site…fellow new yorker here.

  7. I’m trying to find the restaurant “Sweets”. It used to be an old restaurant upstairs but I can’t remember the street.
    Coming to New York and would love that to be one of my
    “gotta go” places.

    • Carol – Sweet’s was located on the second flor of a brick building that stood at #2-4 Fulton street across from the old Fulton Fish Market. It had the best seafood in town and some crusty old waiters. I remember vividly that the management did not accept credit cards. The enbience was wonderful but the place was not air-conditioned and and visiting there in the summer could be a challenge. I understand the restaurant was destroyed by a storm in December 1992.

  8. one spot of good news though – there is going to be a farmers market in the empty fulton space…

  9. I worked for Miss Lake, owner and proprieter of “Sweets”…it was a historic restaurant….there was a guest book (that dated from the 1930’s and quite possibly earlier) that had the signatures of some of the most notsble actors, musicians ( i.e Irving Berlin…lawmakaers..foreign had the reputation as the best seafood house in NY (probably on the east coast….being right next to the Fulton Fish Market, it had the freshest fish !!!Ashley was the chef !!!!..what great memories!!!!

    • My grandfather Charles Lake and his sister Lea Lake inherited Sweet’s Seafood House from their father James Lake, who bought out Axel Anderson in the early years of the 1900s. Jimmy, Charlie and Lea worked at Sweet’s from their teens to the ends of their lives. Brother Cliff worked there a few years, and sister Queenie worked there until she was 90. The Sweet’s guest book is alive and well. I may scan it and post a facsimle of it on a website one day.

      • Linda Jarschauer Johnson

        My grandfather, Julius Jarschauer, was the chef at Sweet’s for many years. He reluctantly gave his fish chowder recipe to Mayor LaGuardia, who not only gave out the recipe on his radio program on January 7, 1945, but changed the recipe to save money. I met Charlie and Lea in the late 50s or early 60s when I went to Sweet’s for dinner. Please scan and post the guest book.

  10. Sweet’s was one of the four NYC restaurants that Old Mr. Flood, the 95 year old seafoodatarian of Jos. Mitchell’s book, felt could be trusted with seafood. Had many a happy meal there. The waiters put on quite a show of crustiness, but melted if you brought a pretty girl with you. The other three—Lundy’s, Gage & Tollner and Libby’s—all gone now too. But they had amazing and well-justified runs.

  11. Leander Hamilton

    Very sad to discover Sweets is closed I feel like I grew up there and Charlie and Lea were part of my family.

    I remember eating the Dover Sole cooked perfectly always or any thing Mr Jarschauer sent to our table.

    My great uncle, Sam, was the only person who had a standing lunch reservation, at the top of the stairs, for the table just inside the doorway – he ate lunch there everyday of his life, never knew what Julius was going to send him and was written up several times in the NYT for it.

    It was the best place in town for seafood…

  12. I realize that the original post here is from several years back. However, since many of those who have commented seem to be nostalgics, I thought I would attach this link of someone selling a menu from Sweet’s, if anyone was interested in holding a physical piece of their past:

  13. Christine Maresca

    Someone please show me the way back in time so I can go to all these places, it’s where I belong. I hate today, the Facebook smartphone artificial world. Bring me the 40’s, 50’s, 60’s, 70’s up to the mid 80’s, before we got to be a tech world.