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Oakland’s Famous Sailing Watering Hole Quinn’s Lighthouse Closes

We recently heard that the well-known Quinn’s Lighthouse Restaurant & Pub in Embarcadero Cove, along the Oakland Estuary, closed on January 31. The building was an actual lighthouse marking the entrance at the north end of the Oakland Estuary. The lighthouse was built in 1890 and operated until the mid-’60s when it was replaced by an automated beacon. It was purchased and moved to its current location in 1965 and opened as Quinn’s Lighthouse Restaurant & Pub in 1984.

Oakland Entrance lighthouse in the 1960s.
The Oakland Harbor Light was at the entrance to the Oakland Estuary from 1890 to the 1960s.
© 2024 Wikipedia

We asked sailor and Master Mariners member Ariane Paul for a few memories. “During the over 20 years that I lived in the S.F. Bay Area,” Ariane said, “I spent many an entertaining evening at Quinn’s Lighthouse Restaurant on the ‘Oakland Riviera.’ It all started when I met Skip and Patty Henderson around 1997 when I joined the Master Mariners Benevolent Association, and Skip invited me to come hear him and his group The Starboard Watch for their regular Thursday night chantey sing at Quinn’s. In the early years, I had to drive over from S.F. and then drag myself to work early the next morning, but then later moving to Alameda, it was a much easier jaunt.”

The Starboard Watch at Quinn's Lighthouse
The Starboard Watch band on stage comprises Jim Nelson (banjo), Brian Theriault (fiddle), Skip Henderson (accordion), “name unknown” (guitar in back), Gary Keep (guitar in front, on far right).
© 2024 Ariane Paul

“Many friendships were made, we all joined in on singing the chanteys. As I also had friends in the marina below Quinn’s, I would often be there on other nights with the regulars playing liar’s dice at the Captains’ Table, which had the names of several memorable regulars who had passed engraved in little plaques around the table. Bill Jansen usually did a water taxi run with chantey regulars on his sloop the Queen of Hearts, coming across the Estuary from Alameda. Sometimes the music would continue late into the night with a second session at Heinold’s First and Last Chance Saloon after Quinn’s had closed for the night.”

Quinn's Lighthouse Celebration
Donna, Emil, Alma, and Shaun (only ones visible) celebrating at the Captains’ Table.
© 2024 Ariane Paul

“Many of the regulars would occasionally dress like pirates when they came to hear the music. The previous owner of Quinn’s sponsored Skip and Patty’s schooner Aida in the Master Mariners regatta for many years. Sammy was one of the waiters who worked there the entire time I was going to Quinn’s; always welcoming us with a big smile, and one of our favorite people. Sadly, Skip and Patty are no longer with us, and the newer owners shut down the chantey sing during the pandemic. But the friendships forged there and the memories live on.”

Quinn’s Lighthouse was popular with sailors for years and featured a peanut-shell-covered floor, fish and chips, a busy bar, and sailors from the neighboring Embarcadero Cove Marina, the nearby West Marine, the Metropolitan Yacht Club, boat dealers and the British Marine boatyard.

Did you spend time at Quinn’s?

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9 Comments

  1. Linda Newland 3 weeks ago

    I have fond memories of sitting on the deck throwing peanut shells onto boats tied up below…ours included and that was circa 1974 so it was open then…maybe wasn’t named Quinn’s. It was a sailor’s bar, not an upscale estuary drinking hole found in Jack London Square.

  2. Jean Ouellette 3 weeks ago

    I’m curious about that 1984 opening date, which I’ve seen cited in many sources. Perhaps a reopening or change of ownership? In the mid- to late 1970s, the Cal Sailing Club cruised its Ensigns from Berkeley to the Estuary several times a year, generally to Quinn’s. A jolly spinnaker run down the Estuary, a beer or two and peanut shells gleefully tossed onto the floor, and about 80 tacks up the Estuary and back to Berkeley. Good times.

    • John Arndt 3 weeks ago

      Good question. We reached out to our digital overlord, Google, and couldn’t find anything else. Though it seems clear the lighthouse moved there in 1965 it isn’t clear what it was from 1965 to 1984.

  3. Candy 3 weeks ago

    This is sad news & will be missed! My husband & I used to go to Quinn’s many years ago. Sometimes we’d take our dinghy over rather than drive from Alameda. One evening we were sitting by the Estuary side windows when the old fireboat Hoga steamed by enroute to a nearby call & we were thinking “Please don’t stop here & ruin our dinner!” Another time, when our boat was hauled for work & we were staying at a nearby hotel, our waiter slipped us some small shrimp for a treat for our elderly cat. It was a wonderful place.

  4. Steve H 3 weeks ago

    I know Gary Keep, and that is not him. In fact, I don’t believe he ever was in Skip’s band. He often played with Dave Nettel and others at the Hyde Street Pier shanty sings.

  5. Jeanine S 2 weeks ago

    One of my favorite jobs to this day. I was voted Best Bartender in 1996 from the Tribune. I had to live up to that. Best Management and Cocktail servers ever. We were a family. So long LJ Quinns Lighthouse

  6. Gary Keep 2 weeks ago

    The guitar player is not me in the photo, that’s Doug Closson who was the regular guitarist. I met Skip about 1979 and did play with StarboardWatch at Quinns dozens of Thursday nights over the years. When Jim would be off playign with his other band the Black Irish Skip would ask me to sit in and lead some songs to give him a break. So many of the group including Skip have gone, but I am the happy owner of one of Skip’s melodeons he sold me 20 years ago. Doug, Jim, Micha, Mordecai, Alan and the rest of us who have been singing these songs for the last 40+ years are still at it. Not many venues left for this type of music. We try to make the monthly Chantey Sings at the Maritime Museum and there will be a Sea Music Festival next August at the Maritime Museum.

  7. Gary Keep 2 weeks ago

    Nope, not me with the guitar , that is be Doug Closson. Spent many Thursday nights playing with Starboard Watch over the last 30+ years. Skip would always call me when Jim was away playing with the Black Irish or if he was short handed. Miss Skip and a lot of the other band members now gone. Jim, Doug, Mordecai, Micha, Steve and others are all still playing sea music. Just aren’t any regular venues left after the pandemic. We do head to the monthly Chantey Sings at the Maritime Museum when we can.

  8. Doug Closson 2 weeks ago

    The “unknown” guitar player in the back in the picture above was John Palme.

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