WEST OCEAN CITY – The owners of a popular dockside bar and grill credit their three decades of success to their loyal customers and employees.
This year, Harborside Bar & Grill celebrates 30 years of operation at the West Ocean City Commercial Harbor. Co-owners Chris Wall and Lloyd Whitehead said what started as a fledgling restaurant and bar is now a go-to destination for residents and visitors alike.
“It has grown a lot,” Whitehead said. “We have the same people that now have kids and now their kids come in. Some even work here.”
In 1993, Wall and Whitehead opened Harborside Bar & Grill. At the time, both were working at Phillips Seafood Restaurant. But when a space became available along the harbor, the pair jumped at the opportunity.
“Lloyd had already finished college, and I stopped off and bought a bar before I went back to college,” Wall said.
The owners recalled that first year of operation, only having enough money to clean up the restaurant before opening the doors.
“We joke there’s no ‘U’ in harbor and ‘E’ on grill,” Wall said. “We couldn’t afford to buy the vowels.”
Whitehead said money was tight and help was limited.
“Early on it was rough,” he explained. “We had some employees but by the first winter it had got down to one or two. We were cooking, bartending, waiting tables, doing everything that first year or two.”
But their luck would soon change. In 1995, after experimenting with different recipes, Harborside released its fresh-squeezed orange crush. The drink, they said, was a hit.
“Orange vodka came out in 1995, and that fall we played with a bunch of stuff to get the orange crush and a couple other drinks,” Wall said. “But that one took off on the drink menu the following season.”
Today, patrons flock to Harborside to get a taste of “the original orange crush,” as well as the restaurant’s various spinoffs, including grapefruit crush and creamsicle crush.
“A lot of restaurants that do the crushes pre-squeeze their juices,” Whitehead said. “Here, it’s almost part of the show, seeing how many guys are doing it at one time. It’s ridiculous how many they do at one time.”
The restaurant also offers an extensive menu with a wide variety of appetizers, sandwiches and entrees. While many patrons come for the orange crush, Wall said they are just as pleased with the food.
“It was a bar that served food,” he said. “We turned it into a restaurant with a kickass bar.”
Whitehead said the menu ranges from burgers and chicken sandwiches to fresh seafood.
“We have a lot of emphasis on seafood – crab cakes, steamed shrimp, scallops,” he said. “For our scallops, literally the boat parks next door.”
Being located along the commercial harbor comes with several advantages, the owners say. Patrons not only enjoy dockside views and fresh seafood, but they can pull their boat into any one of the 18 slips.
“It’s a laidback atmosphere,” Whitehead said. “You’ve got people coming in and out on the boats, a lot of outdoor dining. It’s a lot of fun.”
Wall noted Harborside is a place where patrons of all ages can find everything – from food and drink to views and entertainment.
“What can’t they find?” he said. “You want burgers? An unbelievable CAB steak? Fresh seafood? You want waterfront? Inside? Outside? You want sports on TV? We have a plentiful mix of just about everything you’d want.”
The owners added they can also find great service. Wall said their 30 years of operation would not have been successful without the support of their staff.
“I think we owe a lot to our staff over the 30 years to get us where we are,” Wall said.
“And our parents,” he added. “They were there at the beginning for us and helped us get through the early years.”
For more information on Harborside Bar & Grill, visit weocharborside.com. The restaurant opens daily at 11 a.m.