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Photos by Brian Addison.
It’s a space that has been persistently plagued in the heart of DTLB.
It was once Hooters, before it moved to the Pike Outlets. Then it was an off-shoot of Belmont Shore’s La Creperie when it began its own expansion before quickly closing up shop. Then it was La Shish, referred to on the colloquial side as a term for excrement. Then it was Moonshiners, a wannabe craft cocktail joint that offered $125 Hennessy bottle service paired with a champagne room.
But Pier 76 owner and chef Chris Krajacic believes he can turn it into a space that will uproot the monotony of the failures that preceded his own endeavor, dubbed The Harbor. (And despite its clear homage toward the ocean-centric vibe of Long Beach, don’t expect Krajacic to offer the things he offers at Pier.)
Inspired by the aura of DTLA’s Arts District Brewing Company—as well as hints toward Long Beach’s own Blind Donkey—where games are combined with drinking and grub, Krajacic saw a space with bones he couldn’t find anywhere else.
Behind layers of well-intentioned but ultimately distasteful attempts at spatial improvements—Hooters, for example, lined every wall with particle board panels while other establishes outright covered windows and limited natural lighting—Krajacic discovered floor-to-ceiling walls of brick, a marble floor hidden underneath tack flooring added atop it, and a character that provides the perfect space for what he is trying to achieve.
“This is all about simplicity and quality being combined where you can come to discuss commerce or come for leisure,” Krajacic said. “At Pier , the menu is steady—it is what it is, it’s built for speed—but I want The Harbor to be built for reaction… There really isn’t an outlet for me to flex my culinary skills there, to show off my other talents. [This new place] allows me to be a chef again. It’s the place where people will see an entirely different side of my cooking.”
That different side of cooking also includes games. Lots of games. Skee-ball. Shuffleboard. Possible pinball machines. An adult arcade (that isn’t the kind with private booths).
When Krajacic refers to simplicity, he means it.
The inaugural menu doesn’t reach anything beyond twelve items—and it veers away from the directness of Pier 76’s food toward a style of cuisine that few in Long Beach have seen from the chef, a mix of contemporary grub with hints of comfort.
We’re talking Island Creek oysters with pickled ogo, an edible, branchy seaweed common in Japanese and Hawaiian cuisine. We’re talking smoked bone-in pork shoulder. We’re talking short rib hash. We’re talking lobster fondu. We’re talking lacquered chicken bites.
And he wants to keep it accessible, with almost the entire menu being under $15.
When Krajacic refers to quality, he means it.
Following the closure of The Sky Room after the purchase of the building by Pacific6 for a bottom-to-top renovation, that meant that Cielo, its rooftop bar, would also close—leaving one of the city’s most talented beverage managers, David Schmidt, free for the market. Or, in this case, free to tackle The Harbor’s extensive cocktail list.
Wanting to return the building back to its former glory, the interior proved easier than expected given its original beauty. The patio, however, has long been plagued with a lack of patrons wanting to use it; an oddity considering George’s patio, literally across the street, remains packed constantly.
Feeling the outdoor, Pine-facing space “just lacks character and cover,” Krajacic found old steel frames, ripped out of the original windows and thrown into a pile in the basement, that he will use to build a pseudo-encasement around the patio. Filled with layers of different glasses and adding some much-needed greenery, Krajacic is convinced the space will be consistently filled with folks.
Speaking of that basement, a fun note: Krajacic isn’t stopping at just The Harbor with using the space he’s acquired. He wants to create an all-inclusive—”The precise opposite of a speakeasy,” he said—music venue in the basement area, catering to everything from folk to alt-rock shows.
But for now, all strength and focus is on The Harbor.
If there is a reflection of Pier 76 in The Harbor, it is going to remain hidden for most visitors unless they know Krajacic personally. As with Pier’s ability to magically cater to hundreds of hungry guests within a single lunch hour, The Harbor’s transformation is coming along with the same speed. In fact, Krajacic says they plan to be open by next month—”This building has just been sitting here far too long like dead space, so we want to get this on people’s radar now,” he said—with a much more larger transformation planned in the future once The Harbor has established itself.
“I have the chance to create something that influences the scene here,” Krajacic said. “I would be a fool to not take that chance by the horns.”
The Harbor is located at 130 Pine Ave. in DTLB.
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