Charlie Larner’s Nantucket-style dining destinations are booming in Boston.
When longtime Nantucket lover Charlie Larner told his mother that he was going to quit his job in finance to open a restaurant, she begged him to reconsider. “What about your health insurance?” he remembers her asking. Before he quit, she insisted that he meet with her friend Tom Kershaw, the owner of Cheers, whom she had given explicit instructions to convince her son not to enter the restaurant industry.
Larner followed his mother’s request and met with Kershaw in the cavernous Cheers barroom. The wise, old restaurateur berated him with questions, hoping to reveal the folly of his plans. But by the end of their meeting, Tom Kershaw was so impressed by Larner’s restaurant acumen that he offered to sell him one of his own locations. Two weeks later, Charlie Larner had his first restaurant, Mija Cantina in Faneuil Hall.
Since then, Larner has been on a tear, opening up Nantucket-style restaurants on Boston’s waterfront that are changing the dynamic of their neighborhoods. First came Pier 6 in Charlestown’s Navy Yard. Before diving into the restaurant industry, Larner had bellied up to the bar at what was then Tavern on the Water. With a staggering view of Boston Harbor and the city skyline, he knew this restaurant could be something more than just a watering hole. Larner bought Tavern on the Water and transformed it to an upscale restaurant that still retained its fun-loving local appeal.
As business at Pier 6 began to boom, Larner was just getting started. Directly across the harbor he spotted a new target in the up-and-coming neighborhood of East Boston. Last year, he opened The Reel House on the ground floor of The Eddy luxury apartment complex. This new development provided a fresh canvas, and Larner and his team created a nautically-inspired restaurant that smacks of Nantucket.
Above the bar, the frame of a hull makes up the ceiling, while portal windows are repurposed as hanging light fixtures. The comfy booths feel plucked from a luxury yacht, with Navy blue leather and glossy wood counters. Bringing the outside in, there are two faux olive trees rising from the hardwood floors. All of this has a view of Boston Harbor through a wall of glass, one of the most dramatic views of the city.
To helm the cuisine, Larner brought in executive chef Mark Orfaly, the James Beard winner formerly of the Beehive in the South End. From a slew of fresh oysters to half-lobster cocktail to tuna poke to a New England-style clambake, the Reel House menu brings island flavors to the city. Biting into a buttery lobster tail on the expansive back patio with a light breeze come off the harbor you feel transported to the docks of Straight Wharf.
“I didn’t get into this business to open one restaurant,” Larner says, boarding the water taxi that he charters each day to bring guests back and forth between Pier 6 and the Reel House. “I want to open a bunch.” True to his word, Larner is in the process of opening a second Mija Cantina location in the JetBlue terminal at Logan Airport, as well as another Reel House in Marina Bay. “I’m also avidly looking for my location on Nantucket,” he says. “However, I need to find the land, because what I’m going to build isn’t there and will be very special.” And as history has shown, nobody is going to talk Charlie Larner out of his grand plans — not even his dear mother.