When we think of a dinner cruise on the Potomac River, it’s typically a ticketed buffet on a mega-motorboat. Long gone are the days when Washington’s elite hobnobbed on Sequoia, the presidential wooden yacht. Vintage Yacht Charters, a new company launching in DC this summer, aims to bring some of the old-world charm and romance back to the water with two midcentury vessels available for small private parties. Chef Bin Lu, an alum of Pineapple and Pearls, CityZen, and Bourbon Steak, is at the helm for catering—anything from jaunty picnic lunches to sunset cocktail parties or multi-course dinners.
“The vision is as simple as creating a classic, old-school luxury yacht experience,” says co-founder Nick Dowling, who’s launching the company with Washington native and captain Tommie Williams. “You get on a beautiful boat with varnished mahogany, have a nice cocktail, watch the monuments.”
Larger parties—weddings, birthdays, corporate events—might book Patriot, a 72-foot Burger motor yacht that was custom-built in 1961 for pharmacy tycoon Charles Walgreen Jr. The American-made boat, which has two temperature-controlled salons, three staterooms, a skybridge, and spacious decks, was refitted this year and styled with a vintage 1960s vibe by Lauren Elizabeth Design Studio. Independence, a 1976 Bruno & Stillman Down East Yacht, is slightly more intimate at 42 feet with indoor and outdoor spaces covered in varnished mahogany. Dinner, brunch, and cocktail cruises on both are available for up to 12 guests, while dockside events can accommodate 30 and 15 guests on the larger and smaller vessels.
As you’ve probably guessed, these rides aren’t cheap—charters start at $2,000 for four-hour bookings, while prices escalate as guests customize menus, bar packages, and other amenities. Routes can also be determined on an individual basis—whether guests are more interested in viewing DC monuments, or getting away from the city and heading up towards Mount Vernon. Other options include all-day river cruises, private winetastings, and overnight stays. The boats are currently docked in Navy Yard, but may be able to pick up passengers at various waterfront locations.
Chef Lu won’t be serving the kind of delicately balanced food he prepared as a head chef at Pineapple and Pearls, the two-Michelin-star tasting room where he spent the last five years. As with even luxury mega-yachts, both boats contain tight kitchen quarters. But Lu says that won’t stop him from getting creative with the catering menus, depending on what guests want.
“The intention is the food will fit with the atmosphere—a vintage, midcentury-modern theme,” says Lu. Dinner might include a burrata salad with grapefruit and sherry vinegar or cod sautéed in mustard sauce, while the bar is stocked with bubbles or the makings for gin-and-tonics.
Bookings are currently being taken for June through New Year’s Day. You can find more information on the website.