A new beach club is opening on Governor’s Island — and its owner is shipping in 350 tons of sand in an ambitious bid to create a tropical paradise in the middle of New York Harbor.
Gitano Island — a seasonal restaurant and beach club based on the iconic Gitano restaurant and bar in Tulum, Mexico — is slated to open next month with more than 500 tropical plants and palm trees on the premises, including fire brush and hibiscus.
“Logistically, it’s pretty complex. We’re shipping in 12 truckloads of sand in on a ferry and a barge,” said James Gardner, founder and CEO of Grupo Gitano.
“At the end of the season, we’re donating the plants and trees to the island or local schools,” he added.
The sand, however, will stay. Gitano Island has signed a five-year contract to run from Memorial Day to the end of October.
“The opportunity presented itself and it all happened very quickly,” said Gardner.
The restaurant and beach club will be elevated, by the water, with stunning views of the Manhattan skyline — and outdoor showers to rinse off. Still, there won’t be any swimming as the city fences off access to the water.
“We are thinking this is more of a dress up beach club than a dress down, bikini club, but we’ll see what happens,” Gardner said.
This first season for Gitano Island follows four successful summers of “Gitano, Garden of Love,” in between Tribeca and Soho, where diners like Maisie Williams, Paris and Nicky Hilton and Honey Dijon kicked off their shoes to feel the sand through their toes. But the site — an empty lot at Canal and Varick that Gitano transformed each summer into a magical piece of Tulum — was no longer available.
The Soho pop-up was 400 seats over 24,000 square feet, but Gitano Island will be 600 seats over 27,000 square feet.
“I’ve lived in New York for more than 20 years but had never been to Governors Island. I fell in love with the magic of the island, as if I was transported out East, after a five-minute ferry ride,” Gardner said.
While Gardner is taking a chance on Governors Island, he says the 173-acre preserve’s proximity to Casa Cipriani, the private club and hotel at 10 South Street, helped seal the deal.
“The Casa Cipriani crowd is already familiar with Gitano,” Gardner said, adding that he hopes it will be an easier lift to get them to Governors Island, since they are already almost there — a mere 800 yards away.
Gitano Island beckons just a brief boat ride from lower Manhattan at the historic Battery Maritime Building, a Beaux Arts-style ferry terminal that dates to 1906, which also houses Casa Cipriani.
“I’m hoping there will be synergy with Casa Cipriani members, as many of them are also familiar with Gitano in Tulum, and getting them to take a four-minute ferry ride may not be as challenging,” he said.
Along with the $4 ferry ride — from the Battery or Brooklyn, which is even closer — there’s also BoatrideNYC, a private service using ‘rigid hull inflatable boats’ from Pier 25 in Tribeca that will charge $650 for up to six people “who want to arrive in style,” a spokeswoman added.
Waiting for the beachgoers in however way they arrive will be cabanas and some chairs. Some will be for regular diners while an inner sanctum of lounges and cabanas will be for beach club members, who will have access to reservations and private events as well.
There will also be a giant disco ball reflecting the water from New York Harbor, a tented stage with local and international DJs, and live artist performances. Membership will include preferred access and reservations along with special event invites, said Gardner.
The decor includes a black dining tent with a marble bar, twin dining pergolas, and an open-fired kitchen. The menu will feature Gitano classics — Mezcal cocktails and a modern Mexican menu — from Grupo Gitano executive chef Antonio Maldonado.
Signature dishes will include guacamole, watermelon salad, crab tostada and branzino in banana leaf, with new additions like a Mexican lobster roll and a new taco and frozen margarita bar.
Gitano Island is part of a Governors Island reboot to bring more people to its shores. A luxury Italian spa, QCNY Spa, opened in March.
This summer, there will be 17 food and beverage vendors. New spots include Tokyo Drumstick — a new concept from the owners of Brooklyn’s Kimchi Taco — and Carreau Club, currently located in Industry City.
The island will also offer a walk-in pétanque club, with food by Court Street Grocers. In addition, there’s a new partnership with the New York Food Truck Association, which will bring in a rotating slate of food trucks, added a spokesperson for The Trust for Governors Island.
Island “glamping” is also going strong, thanks to Collective Retreats, which launched in 2018 and also has glamping sites in Hill Country, Tex., and Vail, Colo. A tent for two over Memorial Day weekend on Governors Island will cost anywhere from around $350 a night to $1,200 a night, said Vanessa Vitale, the Collective’s chief hospitality officer, adding that a community lottery system also opens up tents for $75 a night.
“The island has such vast, open spaces, and has always been a great destination for New Yorkers,” Vitale said, adding that the Collective has grown along with the island over the last few years.
Restaurateur James Mallios, of Civetta Hospitality’s Juniper, Bar Marseille, Amali and Calissa, ran food and beverage for Collective Retreats for several years.
“Governors Island keeps getting better every year,” he says. “The city is trying to amp it up. The staycations are great for city goers, and the red tape [security clearances for restaurant food deliveries on the ferry] is also easing up.”
The island will also showcase special events, like the Pride Island Music Festival, with performances by Lil’ Kim and Kim Petras on June 25 and 26, hosted by NYC Pride. There are also programs to showcase artists and their work.
“As Governors Island continues its growth, we’re proud to grow our community of small businesses and vendors providing amenities to our visitors,” said Clare Newman, President and CEO of the Trust for Governors Island.