Opinion: Hs. Lordships should reopen under the Spenger’s brand

Let’s not try to recreate Hs. Lorships; the food was never all that great. But its location is the perfect place for a revival of Spenger’s, the institution that helped put the Berkeley waterfront on the map.

The Berkeley waterfront district has lost three cherished institutions in just the past year or two: Spenger’s Fish Grotto, Brennan’s Irish Pub and Hs. Lordships restaurant.

Okay, maybe Hs. Lordships wasn’t exactly “cherished,” but it was a local institution just the same, in business for over 50 years. And now, Hs. Lordships, with its spectacular location at the south tip of the peninsula that protects the South Cove sailing area from the westerly sea breeze, is vacant. 

The city is having some difficulty finding a new restaurant tenant. For starters, the building needs at least one million dollars of structural upgrades. Plus, every time someone mentions the possibility of the State Lands Commission allowing an RV park on the site, potential investors run the other way. 

Let’s not try to recreate Hs. Lorships; the food was never all that great. But it’s the perfect place for a revival of Spenger’s. 

Spenger’s began as a fish shack near the beach 130 years ago, in 1890. Then came the freeway, the landfill and the marina. Spenger’s lost its waterfront ambiance, along with the rest of Fourth Street — but the location of Hs. Lordships, surrounded by the Bay, presents a perfect opportunity get that ambiance back. 

In the ’70s, as the story goes, Spenger’s did more business than any other restaurant west of the Mississippi. It was high volume, if not high quality. Nearly every Berkeleyite’s parent or grandparent has a Spengers’s story to tell. And the kitch! It was a museum of wonderful nautical paraphernalia — ship models, stuffed sea turtles, gun collections, nameboards from clipper ships, navigation gear from scrapped battleships, hard-hat diving rigs, ships’ wheels, binnacles. We are not talking plastic replicas at a Red Lobster. This stuff was truly historic. Who would have believed that the huge “Star of Denmark” diamond was real? But it was! 

Not all of these treasures are lost forever. The Kingfish bar in North Oakland bid on much of the collection when it was auctioned off early last year. And replacements for the rest can be found and acquired without too much expense. Heck, I’ve probably got enough nautical junk in my own garage to decorate one of the smaller dining areas.

But could the old Hs. Lordships structure replicate the historic high volume of the late Spenger’s? It’s probably the only restaurant site in Berkeley, certainly the only site on the waterfront, that could. That upstairs banquette room is the largest in Berkeley — capacity 600 seats. 

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Just put up the old Spenger’s sign, re-create the retro 1950s seafood menu, bring back the world-class sourdough and minestrone, keep the drink prices reasonable during happy hour, and it’s good to go. Spenger’s could be reborn as the institution that helped put the Berkeley waterfront on the map. 

Paul Kamen is a forensic naval architect who has berthed his small sailboat in the Berkeley Marina since 1977. He was first appointed to the waterfront commission in 1999, served six terms as commission chair, and is currently on the Parks & Waterfront Commission.