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Cohns Give $2.5M Makeover to Harbor Island Restaurant

The vast, nearly empty parking lot at the new Island Prime and C Level Lounge tempted me to do a doughnut when I drove over to take a peek a couple of weeks ago, before the restaurant opened.

It’s hard to believe it’s just a short distance from parking-starved Downtown. But that’s Harbor Island for you , a waterfront mecca with space for parking and commercial development, or in this case, redevelopment.

David and Leslie Cohn, who head the San Diego-based Cohn Restaurant Group, their chef partner, Deborah Scott, General Manager Jeff Pittrof and a few carpenters were busy putting the finishing touches on the upscale 400-seat steak and seafood eatery. The Cohn company has spent about a year working to renovate and remodel the building, which formerly housed Reuben’s, at the east end of Harbor Island Drive.

The entrance was roped off because a special protective coating was drying atop a new walkway stained in shades green and amber. It gave me my first clue that this isn’t your typical nautically themed eatery.

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Walking through the patio entry, it was obvious that the architecture of the 1960s building influenced the retro interior d & #233;cor.

Built in a zigzag shape, the restaurant has bay-side, floor-to-ceiling windows that capture the waterfront vista, Downtown skyline, the San Diego-Coronado Bay Bridge and passing ships. On the sprawling patio, diners will soak up the sights, sounds and the ocean breeze after its opening, scheduled for Aug. 8. Island Prime doesn’t need an aquatic motif to overstate the obvious.

One side of the restaurant , Island Prime , is devoted to steaks and meat dishes. A bar and glass enclosure filled with wine racks separate it from the C Level Lounge, where seafood is the menu’s mainstay.

In keeping with a 1960s palette, furnishings and artwork in lime green and orange contrast with dark brown carpeting and woodwork.

“We wanted to get away from the nautical look, because it’s become clich & #233;,” said David Cohn.

At one point during construction, workers tore out drywall in the foyer, and to their surprise, unearthed long-entombed accent walls made out of lava stone.

“It was like an archaeological dig,” David Cohn said.

Altogether, he estimates the cost of retrofitting and refurbishing the restaurant at $3 million. The building’s owner, Sunroad Enterprises, picked up about $500,000 of the tab.

The Cohn Restaurant Group includes 11 restaurants and clubs, including the Gaslamp Strip Club, Mister Tiki Mai Tai Lounge and Blue Point in Downtown’s Gaslamp Quarter.

As to the fate of the property at the eastern end of Harbor Island Drive, the defunct restaurant, which resembles an old paddle-wheel steamboat next door to Island Prime, is unknown. Cohn said he doubts it would be a restaurant again, since retrofitting it to meet the building requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act would be “cost prohibitive.”

However, he said there has been some talk of building a hotel nearby.

The opportunity for doing doughnuts in the parking lot has probably passed.

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Spice It Up:

Mark and Linda Bailow, who moved to San Diego from Denver a little more than a year ago, have imported a business from their former residence.

The couple announced the opening of California’s first Spicy Pickle restaurant franchise on Poway Road in Poway, scheduled for Aug. 22.

The Denver-based sandwich shop chain currently counts eight franchised restaurants and one that is owned by the corporation. Most are in Colorado and more are planned.

Bailow said he decided to open a Spicy Pickle in 1,700 square feet of space with a staff of about 15 employees in Poway Plaza because he thinks the restaurant’s concept will do well there.

“We have unique sandwiches and spreads and great bread,” he said, adding that he and his wife plan to open another Spicy Pickle in the county.

“We will open another one. It’s just a question of when and then we have to start thinking of where,” he said.

The eatery focuses on a variety of signature sandwiches, including subs and paninis in a fast-casual environment , the category between fast serve and sit-down dining.

The Spicy Pickle restaurant prototype ranges between 1,500 to 2,000 square feet in size, with seating for 35 to 45 people.


Send tourism and hospitality news to Connie Lewis via e-mail to clewis@sdbj.com. She may also be reached by phone at (858) 277-6359.

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