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Lights back on at Harbor Lights

The view is now maximized

Harbor Lights' tables are larger, making room for buckets of clams. Photo credit: Adrienne Kuehl

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With loyal regulars and a rich history since opening in 1959, the remodel and menu update of Harbor Lights has been an embattled topic of conversation amongst locals after its six-week renovation and reopening debut April 19.

The restaurant has undergone small changes in the past. Purchased by Anthony's Restaurants in 2000, there were some updates done to the restaurant at that time.  However, according to Lane Hoss, vice president of marketing for Anthony's Restaurants, "it was time for "more serious maintenance and repair, and more serious updates, including ADA accommodations." This included larger restrooms and a ramp up to the bar, as well as new kitchen equipment.

"One thing that became apparent was we weren't maximizing the view," said Hoss, referring to the restaurant's location on Ruston Way. This resulted in perhaps the most dramatic change with new larger, more expansive windows lining the dining room, and the removal of interior walls to create a more open concept.

On a recent visit to check out the updates, I asked our waitress what she thought of the new interior. "You can see across the whole restaurant," she said. "It used to be impossible to eat a bucket of clams at the old two-tops. They were too small. Now it's a lot roomier."

Not everyone is a complete fan of the pared down, opened up interior, however. "The allure of Harbor Lights has always been about stepping into another era. Maybe, for just a moment, you can believe that Dean Martin and Rosemary Clooney might just come through the door," said Tacoma resident Leischen Moore. "To me, the Harbor Lights never seemed old; it seemed caught in a precious moment in time."

Gone are the photos lining the walls, dim lighting and red leather booths, but certain elements of the old Harbor Lights do remain, which Moore recognizes. "The update saved a couple great pieces, such as the captain's wheel and the model ship. The bar still has many of its classic bottles, and the barware is still classically fabulous," she said. "The new bathrooms have a better layout, the kitchen looks much cleaner, and there is a great new banquet room."

The menu changes feel less dramatic. For dinner, new items include Weathervane scallops with bacon jam ($12.95), crab and corn chowder ($8.95) and more entrée-sized salads such as the wild salmon salad ($14.95) and Cobb salad ($14.95). There is also a crab fettuccine ($19.95) and new seasonal preparations of halibut. For lunch, there is a new under $10 menu and more casual dining options, including Dungeness crab toast ($9.95) and an oyster po' boy ($9.95). There is also a broadened wine list and new drinks.

The charcoal broiler pit where they cook their steaks remains, and for good reason. A recent visit for dinner yielded a delicious char-grilled rib eye ($29.95) and King salmon ($26.95), both with fantastic grilled flavor and perfectly cooked. The classic iceberg wedge with bay shrimp ($3.95) had a nice tang and was fresh and crisp. Harbor Lights' signature clams Bordelaise had the familiar elements of drawn butter, garlic and parsley, only with an updated presentation. Dinner is not complete without checking out their dessert menu. The jar pie trio ($4) was fun, and a satisfying end to the meal, as was the Olympic Mountain cherry chip ice cream ($4.50) and huckleberry slump ($9.50)

One thing that has not changed is the great service. Both our waitress and the manager were attentive and accommodating. Moore agrees. "The staff still remember to greet you with kindness and serve you well.  They remember the heart of the old Harbor Lights and I hope that doesn't change."

"It's all about balancing the traditional with the new," said Hoss. "The real question is, did we keep the stiff drinks?  Yes, we did." - @tacomafoodie

HARBOR LIGHTS, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday-Saturday, noon to 9 p.m. Sunday, 2761 N. Ruston Way, Tacoma, 253.752.8600

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