Saying goodbye to another slice of San Diego’s maritime heritage

If you, like me, are concerned at the galloping pace of the Port of San Diego Board of Commissioners’ efforts to redevelop so much of the San Diego waterfront — seemingly with little public input — news that the Red Sails Inn on Shelter Island is closing after nearly 60 years is troubling. The Red Sails will serve its final meals Aug. 31, when the sale to The Brigantine closes.

A funky but endearing fixture of the “working waterfront,” patronized by generations of boatyard workers plus boaters of every stripe, the memorabilia-laden Red Sails Inn moved to its current location on Shelter Island in 1957 from downtown, following an earlier incarnation along the Embarcadero that opened in the 1920s.

Current owner Bill Dargitz reluctantly relocated from Seattle 23 years ago to help his father, Jack, run the Red Sails three years after Jack had bought half interest in the venerable restaurant. Dargitz, now 54, had grown up in and around Jack’s restaurants and made a career in the hospitality industry. Red Sails and San Diego quickly became home; gradually he bought out his dad’s partner. Jack, 77, retired eight years ago but retains an interest in the restaurant.

Customer loyalty is a hallmark of the Red Sails, many of whose patrons come several times a week or return on regular visits. That’s how I first experienced the Red Sails. My husband, who’d discovered the restaurant as a Navy midshipman, introduced me to his sentimental favorite on my first San Diego visit.

“The cool tradition is that we have people come here with little kids who say ‘I was this big when I first came here,’ ” Dargitz recalled.

Selling the Red Sails is bittersweet for both father and son.

“We didn’t start the Red Sails. But we didn’t think we’d end the Red Sails, either,” he said.

Dargitz had hoped the new Brigantine owners would retain the name, which conveys with the sale, as does much of the memorabilia. Instead they are rebranding it The Ketch, first of their newest chain. The Brig owners have pledged to give Red Sails’ employees, many of whom have worked there for decades, priority in hiring when the restaurant reopens after an extensive remodel, but the staff is justifiably anxious after the shock of losing their jobs.

Rumors of a sale had long swirled around Point Loma. The Dargitzes’ decision to sell was triggered by Anthony’s losing its lease on the Embarcadero location after 50 years.

“The port seems to put everything up to bid now. That scared us,” he said, remarking that they’d almost lost their lease last time, but were saved by the arrival of new port negotiators who appreciated the restaurant’s long tradition.

Although 12 years remained on their lease they feared losing the entire value of their business if they waited to sell.

When the Red Sails pours its last drink on Aug. 31, San Diego will lose yet another slice of its rapidly dwindling maritime heritage, along with all the closed old joints, marine businesses and much of Shelter Island’s disappearing Tiki-inspired architecture.

The Red Sails was an unpretentious, comfortable boaters’ hangout that was, yes, badly in need of a facelift. Yet the loss of this icon represents much more than the closure of just another restaurant: it’s another milestone in the loss of our maritime heritage.

So much of our history has succumbed to the mostly charmless, undistinguished tourist facilities the port has foisted on us for “enhanced revenue.”

Historic preservation, done right, makes good business sense. Let’s protect our maritime heritage while preserving traditions and services essential for thriving marine and boating industries.

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Capt. Nicole Sours Larson

Capt. Nicole Sours Larson has spent more than 25 years boating in Southern California and Mexican waters as well as throughout the East Coast's Chesapeake Bay. A freelance writer, she holds a USCG captain's license and has been writing about boating since 2009. Previously she lobbied on boating safety and education issues for boating organizations at the federal, state and local levels.

4 thoughts on “Saying goodbye to another slice of San Diego’s maritime heritage

  • August 25, 2016 at 4:52 pm
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    Maybe the Spanos family and the Brigantine family should get together and build a stadium since they have folks in their back pocket!! Nice article Capt.!!

    Reply
  • August 27, 2016 at 5:28 pm
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    The Red Sails Inn was a home away from home for me when I would come to San Diego to study for my Coast Guard License upgrades and renewals. The food was always dependable, great value for the price. The staff were always welcoming and who could not love having the fireplace going on a cold, rainy morning. I don’t know why this nation seems to want to destroy our Maritime heritage. Some things and traditions need to be kept and places like the Red Sails Inn was one of them. Wishing the owners and staff the best. You will be missed. You can never be replaced!

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  • September 3, 2016 at 8:44 am
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    This is heartbreaking, my husband and I discovered Red Sails 34 years when visiting San Diego. When we moved here 32 years ago, we had breakfast there every weekend as our we raised our children. We just started taking our grand children there a few years ago, I can’t believe they won’t grow up skipping around the fountain like my kids! I loved their food and charm of the interior…another small town San Diego icon gone. I doubt I’ll even try the Ketch or whatever they call the new restaurant and I’m sure they won’t served chipped beef on toast…argg what is the world coming to?

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  • September 7, 2016 at 9:10 am
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    My uncle introduced us to the Red Sails when he lived on his sailboat in the 60’s. We have many fond memories and will really miss those hush puppies.
    Farewell and Cheers!

    Reply

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