When local hospitality legend Garrett Harker was forced to close his three celebrated restaurants last year — Eastern Standard Kitchen & Drinks, The Hawthorne, and Island Creek Oyster Bar — it was clear that he left a piece of his heart in Kenmore Square.
Now he’s planning a triumphant return.
Harker has reached a deal to open four restaurants in the Bower apartment building in the Fenway Center development, a luxury mixed-use project on Beacon Street, just a five-minute stroll from his old stomping grounds at the Hotel Commonwealth. The restaurants will open early next year.
Harker plans to carve up 20,000 square feet in the Bower’s street-level retail space and make full use of the center’s plaza, where he’ll have a sea of outdoor seating. The two-building apartment complex, which opened in 2020, is the first phase of the long-planned Fenway Center project; phase two — which includes a 22-story office tower to be built on a deck atop the Massachusetts Turnpike — launched last year.
Now the project will have a big-name restaurant anchoring its ground floor just outside Kenmore Square.
“While there have been dark clouds in our industry for the past two years, I’m as excited as ever to roll up my sleeves and dig in,” Harker said in a statement. “I’m grateful to the team at Bower for giving me the opportunity to once again be a part of creating an entirely new neighborhood just a short five-minute walk from my home of 15 years.”
Harker has long played an outsized role in Boston’s hospitality industry. After opening the award-winning No. 9 Park with chef Barbara Lynch, he went on to build B&G Oysters and The Butcher Shop in the South End. He struck out on his own with Eastern Standard in the Hotel Commonwealth in 2005, creating a brasserie whose long marble bar became a base of a different sort for the entire Fenway neighborhood. Known for welcoming a cross-section of the city, it was once called “a perfect restaurant” by Globe food critic Devra First.
In 2010, Harker partnered with Jeremy Sewall, Shore Gregory, and Skip Bennett of Duxbury’s Island Creek Oysters to open Island Creek Oyster Bar, and followed that with The Hawthorne cocktail bar in 2011. Over his 15-year tenure, Harker was often credited with kickstarting the transformation of Kenmore Square, establishing the corner of the city as a dining destination that was so closely associated with him that many dubbed it “Harkertown.”
The group went on to open several more celebrated restaurants: Row 34 in both Fort Point and Portsmouth, N.H., and a second Island Creek Oyster Bar in Burlington. (Their Harvard Square foray into French food, Les Sablons, closed in 2018 after just a year in business.) Harker also continued with his own projects, opening Branch Line rotisserie in Watertown and launching Eastern Standard Provisions, an artisanal pretzel and snack company, in 2019.
Like many restaurants, the trio in the Hotel Commonwealth shut down service at the outset of the pandemic. But they never reopened, in part because of a protracted legal battle between Harker and the restaurants’ landlord, Urban Meritage, which ultimately led Harker and his partners to shut down entirely early last year.
While the city’s restaurant industry has seen an unprecedented number of closures as a result of the pandemic, the fall of some of the biggest hospitality darlings hit hard. Heartbroken diners lamented the fact that they were never able to sample the french fries or roasted bone marrow one last time.
And shortly after the news broke about the closure, the partners announced they were parting ways too, with Bennett focusing on Island Creek Oysters and Sewall and Gregory taking over ownership of the Row 34 restaurants and the remaining Island Creek Oyster Bar in Burlington, which they’ve since reopened as a Row 34.
It was all dark, depressing stuff. But now, finally, there are some bright spots. In November, Bennett opened The Windsor House, a new restaurant in Duxbury across the street from the Island Creek Oyster Farm. And last week, Sewall and Gregory announced that a new Row 34 will open this fall in Kendall Square.
And as for Harker, the big looming question was not just if he could stage a return, but when and where. Harker had a noncompete agreement with Urban Meritage that said he could not open a new restaurant within 2 miles of the hotel for two years after the restaurants closed.
But given the booming new development underway in and around Kenmore Square, there was no shortage of suitors willing to work with him. And ultimately, developer John Rosenthal, whose Meredith Management built the Bower in partnership with the Green Cities Company and Nuveen Real Estate, wooed Harker to the Bower.
“We can’t wait to bring Garrett back home to the Kenmore Square/Fenway neighborhood and Greater Boston,” Rosenthal said. “Garrett has been sorely missed by our neighbors, and frankly, Boston’s entire restaurant scene. He is the perfect hospitality partner for this remarkable new destination.”
Harker is being mum on what the makeup of the four restaurants will be, but there are clues: Mixologist Jackson Cannon, his longtime business partner who helmed The Hawthorne bar, will be overseeing the beverages. And chef Nemo Bolin, who served as executive chef at Eastern Standard until it closed, will be mapping out the menus at all four spots. New York-based design firm Parts & Labor, which has bagged hospitality design awards for projects like the The Grey in Savannah, will be sketching out the space.
More details will emerge later this year.
Until then, the neighborhood can take some comfort in knowing that Harker will soon be coming home.