Harbor Restaurant & Lounge wants you to dock your boat and stay awhile. The newly opened restaurant, which made a splash when Ja Rule christened the place with a concert over Memorial Day Weekend, has a vibe that’s a little bit Australian, a little bit European and every bit Montauk.
Think ping-pong, bocce and cocktails on the beach in the afternoon, a Mediterranean-style menu with hyper-local seafood in the evening and dancing to 80s and 90s music until the wee hours of the morning.
“You can come in at lunchtime and be here all day,” owner and Australia native Jamo Willis, said. “You don’t have to go anywhere.”
A longtime Montauk surfer, Willis’s adoration for the East End inspired every part of the restaurant.
“I love the history, I love how it’s set up, I love how they’re good waves,” Willis said. “The more I stay here, the more it feels like home.”
Inside, Harbor Restaurant & Lounge is full of colors, with a herringbone bar and palm tree wallpaper.
“I love color, and I know how to create the ideal environment that creates good energy,” Willis said. “I think it’s an expression of my own self. A lot of my friends walk in and they’re like, ‘This is definitely Jamo.'”
As for the music, get ready to transport yourself back to the days when MTV still played music videos.
“I grew up in the 90s,” Willis said. “The 80s and the 90s, that was our jam. We play that music and people come up to us and say thank you and leave with smiles on their faces.”Food is of course a crucial part of the experience Willis is looking to create, so he has brought in Chef Roy Wohlars, who has done stints at South Edison, Moby Dick’s and Ruschmeyer’s to man the kitchen and the Booby Trap, a takeout stand on the property. Wohlars designed a menu with Willis’s laid-back vibe in mind.
“People who come out here are not looking to eat like they’re at a steakhouse,” Wohlars said. “They’re looking to go to the beach the next day and get out and dance after dinner.”
Tapping into his network of fishermen and farmers, Wohlars is getting wheat and produce from Amber Waves Farm, bluefish fetched right from the local waters highlights a salad and a local fisherman’s jonah crab claws are expected to be on the menu soon.
“It’s just a passion of mine to work with the fishermen, the local farms, take their product and try to make something that’s really, really, really good,” Wohlars said.
Looking past the summer Wohlars and Willis know it can be tough to keep a business running in Montauk. But Willis is aiming to break that mold.
“If the food and music are good, people will come back,” Willis said. “I think we’re going to nail that for sure.”