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Cap’s Place, the oldest Broward restaurant, a former speakeasy & casino, is a fascinating visit

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Last updated on July 5th, 2024 at 08:22 am

Every time I go to Cap’s Place, the historic landmark where presidents and celebrities have dined over almost 100 years, I wonder how long Cap’s, the oldest operating restaurant in Broward County, can survive.

In a region where houses from the 1950s are considered tear-downs and highrises are popping up on every corner, how does a rustic shack opened in 1928 that you can’t even reach by car stay in business?

The bar at Caps Place is the most evocative space, unchanged for decades. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
Cap’s Place in Lighthouse Point. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Just as amazing: The same extended family, children of a fellow who was there when it all started, still own and run the place after 95 years.

The story behind Cap’s Place in Lighthouse Point

The 1920s were a wild time in Broward County (population 14,242 in 1925.) The devastating hurricane of 1926 brought depression a few years before the rest of the country.

But people still had to have fun, and Captain Theodore Knight thought this was a good time to open a restaurant. So in 1928, he bought a barge for about $100 and beached it on a mangrove-lined spit of land in Lighthouse Point and using Dade County pine, built the restaurant on this foundation. He named it Club Unique; but it was always called Cap’s Place.

Caps Place is the oldest restaurant in Broward County.
Caps Place is believed to be the oldest still-operating restaurant in Broward County. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

The rest is history, and it’s all preserved in this outpost.

Cap’s served all sorts of fresh seafood, but the secret to Cap’s success was unquestionably liquor and gambling. It was prohibition and Cap smuggled whiskey in by a speedy boat from Bimini 50 miles away.

Cap’s is located just west of the Hillsboro Lighthouse and was nestled in an isolated area with thick mangroves. It helped that his brother was the lightkeeper at Hillsboro Lighthouse.

The bar at Cap's Place is in a separate building from the restaurant and it is more atmospheric and evocative than the restaurant itself. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
The bar at Cap’s Place is in a separate building from the restaurant and I think has more atmosphere than the restaurant itself. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Law enforcement was scarce and Cap was never caught. It was a smuggler’s heaven.

While gambling was technically illegal in Florida, private memberships to the “supper club” cost 25 cents and slot machines lined the hallways. There also was blackjack, dice, roulette and more.

Back then, guests also arrived by boat, parking along the beach and flicking their headlights at Cap’s Place so a row boat could come fetch them.

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.

Cap’s “partner” Albert Hasis was there from the start

Today Cap’s Place is owned and operated by the children of Al Hasis, who was at Cap’s place from the beginning.

Even before Cap’s Place opened, Hasis had joined forces with Cap. In 1926, Cap was 47 and Hasis was 16, a runaway from Pittsburgh seeking his fortune. Cap took him in and they had a friendship for the rest of their lives.

Hasis worked at the restaurant with Cap until Cap died in 1964 at 93. Today it is run by his children, Tom, a successful Lighthouse Point attorney who has served as a city commissioner, Ted, and Tally, who is most involved in the restaurant.

The exterior of Cap's Place and its unimposing entrance. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
The exterior of Cap’s Place and its unimposing entrance. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Visiting Cap’s Place today

To visit Cap’s Place, you first wait in a marina at Cap’s dock for the motor launch that will take you a short distance down the canal. As you get off the boat at Cap’s, you walk down a rustic pier lined with mangroves. You barely see the buildings from the water — they are low-slung and hidden by trees and vegetation. (I think it’s better to arrive in daylight so you can look around.)

Then it’s worth stopping in the bar, even if you don’t drink. Lit by bare light bulbs and full of things to look at, the bar is the most evocative spot at Cap’s.

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 that Al Hasis discovered on the beach.

cap's place caps place boat house Cap's Place, the oldest Broward restaurant, a former speakeasy & casino, is a fascinating visit
With mangroves lining the dock, the boathouse at Cap’s Place look rustic and isolated. It is anything but. In every direction, there are mansions and yachts. But this view suggests the area the way it was when Cap’s was founded. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

After visiting the bar, head into the restaurant, a long wooden building with rows of square windows overlooking the water.

The walls of both the bar and restaurant are covered with memorabilia: Newspaper clippings, old photographs, flotsam and jetsam collected from the shoreline, taxidermied fish, parts of old ships and antique currency. The Dade-County-pine ceiling beams, walls and floors are the originals.

The menu is not huge — snapper, mahi, scallops, shrimp, which can be prepared in a variety of ways, plus crabcakes, a steak and a chicken dish. Long-time favorites are the a la carte hearts of palm salad and the lime pie. Entrees are $20 to $40.

The interior of the restaurant at Cap's Place. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
The interior of the restaurant at Cap’s Place. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

The food on our December 2023 visit was very good, as it has been on previous visits over the years.

It is expensive, however — our two entrees, an appetizer and one glass of wine each came to $141 including tip in December 2023.

We chalked up the expense as the equivalent of an admission price to a historic house plus dinner.

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

Famous people who have dined at Cap’s Place

At the restaurant, you can get a printed list of personalities who have dined at Cap’s Place.

The most storied visit was during World War II, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill dined here while attending secret meetings at the beach estate of Secretary of State Edward Halsey. Churchill was indeed in Pompano Beach at this time, but there is no real documentation of the visit.

In its successful 1990 application to the National Register of Historic Places, it points out, however, that a news blackout at the time prevented reporting on the event. Plus “the story was full of specific details about the passage across the intracoastal. Captain Bruce Bennet supervised the logistics of transporting Churchill, Roosevelt (and his wheelchair), and the rest of the entourage in a boat to the restaurant. His greatest fear was overloading the boat or tipping it over.”

Cap's Place in Lighthouse Point is unchanged. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
Cap’s Place in Lighthouse Point is unchanged. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Other well-known personalities have dined here too.

There have been two other presidents — John F. Kennedy and Bill Clinton — and there have been mobsters — Al Capone, Bugsy Siegel, Myer Lansky and others.

Lots of entertainers have visited: Old-time ones like Gloria Swanson, Barbara Stanwick, Rita Hayworth, Johnny Weismuller, Errol Flynn, Myrna Loy, Walt Disney, Johnny Carson; plus a hodge-podge of more recent names, like skateboarder Tony Hawk, George Harrison, Mariah Carey and Paris Hilton. The list is long.

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 mystique of Cap’s Place

One of the yellowing newspaper clippings on the wall at Cap’s is more than 40 years old, when a local newspaper did a big feature story on Cap’s Place, marveling at its age, its story and its authentic condition.

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.

Cap’s was once called Club Unique. For once that overused word is accurate.

After all these years, there’s no place else like it around here.

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

Cap’s Place Island Restaurant and Bar

Cap’s Dock is at 2765 N.E. 28th Court, Lighthouse Pt., FL. 33064

(954) 941-0418
(There is no parking at the restaurant at 2980 NE 31st Ave, Lighthouse Point, FL 33064)
Cap’s is open for dinner Wednesday thru Sunday starting at 5:30 p.m.

Reservations are recommended.

Florida Rambler tip: If you’re not up for a splurgy dinner, you can take the boat over and just have a drink at 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.

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