Budd Gould, founder and owner of Anthony’s Restaurants, stands in the hallway of one of his newest acquisitions – which is one of his oldest properties.
Harbor Lights celebrated its 50th anniversary Thursday.
Emotion steals strength from Gould’s voice. His eyes slowly redden as a prologue to tears.
“I don’t know why I’m so emotional about this restaurant, but I am,” he said. “It’s in my blood. And to see it being honored … .”
Harbor Lights, long a fixture along Tacoma’s Ruston Way, was about to turn 40 when Gould added it to his collection of upscale Pacific Northwest waterfront restaurants.
He purchased Harbor Lights in 2000 from LaMoyne Hreha, daughter of the founder, Anton Barcott.
Gould recalls, “LaMoyne said, ‘Budd, Do you think you can carry on the traditions?’”
He said he would.
And he has.
Moderate prices, hefty portions, fresh ingredients. Memories on the walls – from photographs to taxidermied fish. Nectar chowder. Stiff martinis.
Maybe 300 people were there at the party Thursday afternoon. Longtime customers, longtime employees, friends and members of the extended family came to pay tribute. Out on the sidewalk beneath a tent alongside Ruston Way, the mayor spoke. So too a congressman.
But this is Harbor Lights – so the regulars stayed in the bar. This is where they’ve been for five decades.
The boys, retired now from business and industry.
Said Bob Knutsen, “We have been coming here four, five, six days a week. The road out front was a dirt and oil mat. This is the place where everybody went. Back then, people used to drink a lot more. On Wednesdays, we never went back to work.”
Knutsen said he did the sheet metal work on the restaurant. He said it cost Barcott $36,000 to open the place.
Says a colleague, “Most of us did more business here than at the office. Lawyers met with clients, brokers made real estate deals.”
Those were the days of liar’s poker and good Scotch, of a waterfront where millworkers and boatbuilders greatly outnumbered dogwalkers and tourists.
Out front on Thursday afternoon, Barcott’s family reminisced.
“Back then, in those days, everything was on a handshake,” said granddaughter Roxane Hreha. “Mr. Nalley would come down with his condiments in a basket. Anton would pour your own ketchup.”
He would do so, she said, not because he was being polite. Rather, it was because ketchup cost money.
But Anton let some customers, a hundred or so, keep a tab.
“At the beginning, Grandma and Grandpa would work here together,” Hreha said.
That would be Anton and his wife, Jennie.
Granddaughter Tina Haggen recalled, “For years, Mom would leave, Daddy would come home.”
Barcott would come into the restaurant a little after 4 a.m. to cut the meat and fillet the fish. Some pals would arrive at the back door around 6, and the men would sit for a spell drinking coffee.
Barcott raised the flag every day.
The legend has it that as a boy of around 10 he cried the day he sailed past the Statue of Liberty. He’d been called to America from the island of Korcula, in Croatia. His father needed help at the family’s California Oyster House on Pacific Avenue – a restaurant Barcott sold in 1958 before moving to Ruston Way, then something of a social wilderness.
“People thought he was nuts,” said Hreha. “ ‘Tony, you’re crazy,’ they said. ‘Nobody will come down this road.’”
Back then, nightlife along Ruston Way stopped at the Top of the Ocean. From there to the smelter the waterfront was defined by the workday.
“Opening night, it was very quiet,” said granddaughter Ruby Gallagher.
“I remember we didn’t have much business,” said Haggen. “February. Down here.”
And on that first Fourth of July, she said, Jennie Barcott tried to attract business by standing in front of the restaurant wearing a black leotard and a grass skirt.
“She had great legs,” said Hreha.
It was Jennie Barcott who designed the plywood fish that swim on the outside of the building, Hreha said.
Anton died two days before Anthony’s took over.
And a granddaughter remembers how he would sing the song, “Harbor Lights,” to her as if it were a morning lullaby.
It’s the song where “all the while my heart keeps praying that some day harbor lights will bring you back to me.”
C.R. Roberts: 253-597-8535