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Cap’s Place: Historic South Florida restaurant is like a time capsule

Kitten at Cap's Place Island Restaurant, Lighthouse Point

The rustic bar at Cap’s Place is unchanged from the historic photos you see inside. (Photo: David Blasco)

Caps Place is the oldest restaurant in Broward County.

Caps Place is the oldest restaurant in Broward County. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

If you haven’t been to Cap’s Place in awhile, don’t worry. Nothing has changed.

The oldest still-operating restaurant in Broward County, a rustic shack whose foundation is a beached barge, Cap’s is now surrounded by the mansions and yachts of Lighthouse Point. But on its mangrove-lined property, Cap’s is a time capsule of the past.

The experience starts with winding through a Lighthouse Point neighborhood, parking at the dock and then taking the five-minute boat ride over to the restaurant. You feel like you’re on an expedition, and you are — into another era.

Forty years ago, the local newspaper did a big feature story on Cap’s Place, founded in 1928. The yellowing clip, heralding Cap’s as a vestige of Old Florida, is one of many such articles decorating the place.

The bar at Caps Place is the most evocative space, unchanged for decades.

The bar at Caps Place is the most evocative space, unchanged for decades. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

The funny thing is: You could write the same story today. And take the same photos. And interview one of the owners, who has the same last name as the person quoted in that story — the children of the founder.

Old photo, Cap's Place Island Restaurant, Lighthouse Point

The walls of the bar are lined with photos that capture the history of Cap’s Place.

View from the boat: Cap's Place Island Restaurant, Lighthouse Point

The view from the boat landing at the dock at Cap’s Place.

The dock at Cap's Place Island Restaurant, Lighthouse Point

The dock at Cap’s Place

Sunset, Cap's Place, Broward County's oldest restaurant, Lighthouse Point

Sunset over the dock at Cap’s Place.

Shoreline at Cap's Place Island Restaurant, Lighthouse Point

Sandy shore means kayaks can land easily at Cap’s Place.

Somehow, Cap’s hasn’t changed.

Everything else has.

When Winston Churchill ate here in 1942, the wooden floor boards in the Dade-County-pine shack that serves as a bar were already warped and sloping.  But Churchill didn’t pass an upscale neighborhood when he arrived.

Cap’s was an outpost amidst the mangroves. Today, Cap’s is still an outpost. But now it’s an outpost of gritty old surrounded by the glittering new. In 1990, it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Cap’s original name was Club Unique, and, for once, unique isn’t an exaggeration.

That’s why it’s worth visiting — there’s no place else like it left anywhere near here.

Dining here is like getting to eat and drink in one of those historic houses where docents glare at you if you get too close to the furniture.

The food, while expensive, is quite good, but it’s the atmosphere that makes it worthwhile.

Before coming, read the fabulous history full of hurricanes, lighthouse keepers, rum running, mobsters, illegal turtle-egg pancakes and celebrities from Joe DiMaggio to George Harrison. Then you’ll be in the right mood.

Cap’s Place calls itself an island restaurant, although technically it is not. It’s located on a peninsula in Lighthouse Point in the middle of an expensive residential neighborhood. To keep cars and traffic out of the area, you must arrive at Cap’s by boat.

As you approach Cap’s, you barely see the buildings. They are low-slung and small, hidden by trees and vegetation.

After admiring the setting, it’s worth stopping in the bar and hanging out, even if you don’t drink. Lit by bare light bulbs, the bar is the most evocative spot at Cap’s. It is filled with old clippings and historic photos and decorated with ancient cash registers, a sawfish bill, harpoons and parts of ships.

A most prized item is behind the half-circle wooden bar — a carved wooden frieze decorated with curious items, including the pope’s hat on its side. It’s the starboard bowsprit off a sunken Spanish galleon one of the founders, Albert Hasis, discovered on the beach.

Hasis, was a boy of 16 when Cap, Captain Theodore Knight, started the restaurant in 1928. According to Cap’s website, Hasis had run away from his Pittsburgh home. He came to be like a son to Cap and, eventually, the Hasis family took over the restaurant. The three children of Al Hasis still own and operate it.

After visiting the bar, head into the restaurant, a long one-room wooden building. Rows of square windows overlook the water, though the view is primarily of mangroves along the shore.

The menu focuses on fresh fish, and we found the night’s specials — yellow-snapper and crab cakes — to be delicious and the portion generous.

The classic salad is fresh hearts of palm, a dish Cap’s has been serving since the original menu.

It is expensive, however — our two entrees with one glass of wine each and service came to $118.

We found our food better than we remember it from past visits — well-prepared and well-seasoned. We chalked up the expense as the equivalent of an admission price to a historic house, and we saved our visit there for a special occasion.

To have the full experience, my advice is arrive in daylight so as to enjoy the view. Walk around and look back at the place from the Intracoastal. Look at the items on the walls. Soak up the history.

If you’re not up for a splurgy dinner, you can take the boat over and just visit the bar at Cap’s. Also good to know: Cap’s does not have a seawall on the Intracoastal side and kayakers have been known to stop at the bar for a sunset glass of wine or a beer. There’s a sandy beach that makes an easy landing.

Caps Place is open for dinner year round, six days, closed Mondays. Reservations, particularly on weekends, are recommended.

Cap’s Place Island Restaurant and Bar
2980 NE 31st Ave, Lighthouse Point, FL 33064


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