Walt’s Wharf restaurant re-opens, locals line up

Patrons are once again able to enjoy the food at Walt’s Wharf. Photo by Charles M. Kelly

Resurgence of Main Street continues; state restrictions get more severe

Walt’s has welcomed diners back.


On Main Street.

“The feedback has been great,” said Coleen Liebzeit, Walt’s general manager. “It’s really nice to hear and we’re so appreciative.”

The Main Street staple — known for its seafood and wine — hosted customers indoors, at 25 percent capacity, on Nov. 13. Four days later, the state announced that indoor operations were prohibited as COVID-19 cases spiked in much of California. Gov. Gavin Newsom placed Orange County in the most restrictive tier of the government’s four-tier system: purple.

Outdoor dining was made available to customers on Nov. 27.

“We were busy on the 27th and we’ve been pretty much at capacity since,” said Liebzeit.

Walt’s shuttered back in spring because of the pandemic.

It now serves as many as 60 people at 15 tables on Main Street. The menu has been pared down for practical reasons, but most of the classics, such as Boston clam chowder, are still offered. A majority of the employees are recent-hires, including a new executive chef.

The opening marks another milestone in the survival of Main Street. Many restaurants are offering outdoor experiences in makeshift enclaves on the business corridor. Locals and out-of-towners love the European-street feel, the ocean air, the sunsets. That doesn’t mean there’s not a cloud hovering over the economy, but it does mean there’s a silver lining.

“I just heard it was open, and I’ll be going there soon,” said Thomas Wexler, of Los Alamitos. “It’s one of the best restaurants anywhere.”

When Walt Babcock opened the restaurant in the inaugural year of the 1970s, you could buy a stamp for 6 cents and a dozen eggs for 62. You could buy a can of Coca-Cola for as little as a nickel, and a gallon of gas for less than 50 cents.

The restaurant thrived, and when the Babcock family opened its own winery in the Santa Barbara area, Walt’s become known for its varietals as well as its food and atmosphere.

Over the years, much has changed, but some things — like the joy of an oak-grilled artichoke paired with a glass of Sauvignon-Blanc —remain the same.

Happy birthday, Walt’s. The town’s celebrating with you.