Restaurant Reviews

Barnacle Billy’s

May 2017 | view this story as a .pdf

The opening of Ogunquit’s Barnacle Billy’s marks the start of summer.

By Colin W. Sargent

May-17-Restaurant-Barnacle-Billy'sEveryone’s excited because here in Perkins Cove, the season begins the first day Barnacle Billy’s opens,” says realtor Chris Erikson. [No coincidence here. This is a companion story to our House of the Month feature just steps away, page 81. Same cove, different angles.]

Barnacle Billy’s is the straw that stirs the drink in Perkins Cove. If you are, say, a movie technician assigned to capture the musical sounds of happy people in Maine, Barnacle Billy’s is where you’ll find it. What a cacophony!

Fine dining is one thing, but this is Finestkind dining. What’s the value of the first lobster, the first steamed clams, and the first blueberry pie à la mode of the summer? This eternal attraction, and this resolutely informal experience, is at the center of the real Vacationland.

We enter at twilight and through the dining room see astonishing views of the Perkins Cove fishing fleet and the white span of the bridge over the harbor. There’s still a chill in the air, but stalwart diners huddle on the deck. Both of the massive stone fireplaces crackle with welcome blue and orange flames.

With native nonchalance we enter, select our seafood immediately on arrival (vegetarian options are limited to salads and dessert because it’s too early for corn), pay at the register, and earn a precious number (ours is “10”) that will somehow sound dreamy a few minutes later when it’s barked on a loudspeaker amid the raucous shucking of lobsters and steamed clams.

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Barnacle Billy’s was founded in 1961, the year John Glenn went into outer space. Looking for celebrities? Presidents George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady have eaten here. “But not at the same time,” the joke goes. Correction–it was at the same time. How about Cybill Shepherd, Christian Bale, Art Garfunkel, Mikhail Gorbachev, Elizabeth Montgomery, Rex Harrison, Patty Duke. The Kinks. You’ve really got me going, Barnacle Billy’s! Anthony Perkins (Psycho). Sir David Frost. “Robert Goulet sang on the deck once,” according to co-owner Tim Tower, son of founder Bill Tower (1927-2013). Ask for Table 30, where the founders always held court.

Tonight, a pound-and-a-quarter lobster, expertly pre-cracked and perfectly cooked, is $24. A generous order of sweet, succulent steamers with hot, melted butter is $21.95. Pie (with ice-cream, naturally) is $8.75. “We’ll have our own corn in August.” Because you fetch your meal, there isn’t even a space for a tip on the food receipt. Beverages, in contrast, come to your table.

Barnacle Billy’s, founded during the Sputnik years, is still a blast. Located in the heart of the Ogunquit art colony and tourism mecca, this is high on our list of places that must never change.

So what’s the added value? This is where summer lives. See the live webcam:

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