During a ski trip to Vermont, Bob Leonard stopped into an old colonial building. The Green Mountains are full of 18th century cottages, but Bob was startled to discover that the electric lights were switched off, replaced entirely with flickering wax candles.
“We didn’t get 10 steps in the door, and we said to ourselves, ‘This would be perfect for the Coast Guard House,’” remembers Bob. “We’re always looking to play up the history of the place.”
As manager and co-owner of the The Coast Guard House, the famed seaside restaurant that has served elegant dinners since the 1940s, Bob is deeply interested in the building’s significance to Narragansett. For the past two winters, the restaurant has hosted monthly candlelit dinners, using the early dusk for anachronistic romance. The dinners have been a hit, and they showcase the Coast Guard House’s strongest impulse: to combine the stone building’s century-old legacy with thoughtful and
“Any event we do, we talk about as a group,” says Bob. “We’re all about the teamwork. The way my partners and I look at it, we’re taking care of the building. For the state of Rhode Island, it’s part of the fabric. So many people come through the restaurant. They have family memories, from generations ago coming here as a kid. They have pictures of their great-grandparents in front of the restaurant.”
Before its reinvention as a dining establishment, the Coast Guard House served as an actual station for U.S. Life Saving Service, a predecessor to the Coast Guard. Unlike the military, this Narragansett branch hired mostly local recruits, who quartered inside the building, their beds standing within spitting distance of their rescue boats; Bob compares the arrangement to an old firehouse.
The Coast Guard House has enjoyed an historical renaissance this past year; the National Archives is compiling a wealth of information about the site, which Bobhopes to display somewhere in the dining area. The restaurant has also started hosting monthly history dinners, where the head of the South County Museum recounts the narrative of Narragansett. Meanwhile, the team hosts regular beer and wine nights, which pair four- or five-course dinners with a range of hand-picked libations.
Bob grew up in Brooklyn and central New Jersey, and he came to Rhode Island as a student at Johnson & Wales. He’s long fallen in love with his adoptive state; the beaches remind him of childhood trips to the shore with his grandfather. Each day, he can see the Narragansett coastline from the restaurant’s panoramic windows, the same boulder-strewn view his predecessors saw in the 19th century.
For Bob, that fraternal tradition continues to the present day. “I always tell our customers, our staff is the most important thing to me,” he says. “Customers say, ‘Wait a minute, we should be the most important thing.’ And I’m like, ‘You’re right there, right behind my staff.’ Because it takes us all to give people a nice dinner and a nice experience. And we have a great group of people. Customers get to enjoy this beautiful view, but that hospitality is why they come.”
The Coast Guard House Restaurant
40 Ocean Rd, Narragansett