Harry’s Bar and American Grill

| October 5, 2015 | 0 Comments

Hemingway Would Love It!

By the time this story goes to press, San Diego Restaurant Week will have come and gone. Hopefully, readers will have taken advantage of the opportunity to enjoy select fine dining establishments at somewhat reduced prices. Another restaurant week will come by in about six months.

Harry’s Bar and American Grill in University Town Center (UTC) was one of the featured restaurants. There are a lot of changes going on in its neighborhood. There’s a huge hole in the ground at the Westfield mall, which is undergoing major expansion, with possibly many new restaurants. A short time ago, David Cohn, who is never afraid to pull the plug on a struggling operation, reworked The Gaslamp Strip Club into the now popular Draft Republic. And Donovan’s moved out of UTC and reopened in La Jolla. But Harry’s Bar has weathered changes and continues to serve outstanding cuisine for many years, despite changes in ownership.

The restaurant was once part of an international chain of venues that began with a location in Venice, Italy. The story goes that Guiseppe Cipriani, a local bartender, lent a patron a large some of money that was ultimately repaid with a huge bonus by the grateful borrower. When asked what to do with the bonus, the borrower replied, “open a bar and name it after me.” Harry Bar was born.
The Venice location became very popular with celebrities. Ernest Hemingway was one of the notables. The bar became famous with his patronage. Other celebrities who frequented it include Charlie Chaplin, Richard Halliburton, Aristotle Onassis and Woody Allen.

The chain expanded by franchising into several major European and American locations but, unfortunately, ultimately went into bankruptcy. Many of the franchisees bought their locations, so the name continued, including the location at UTC.

Garo Minassian is one of the operators of the local restaurant. He brings a wealth of experience to the operation, having run Scalini, a famous Del Mar eatery, for over 25 years.

The restaurant can be seen from La Jolla Village Drive but parking is actually in one of the parking structures behind it. It pays to note the address of the restaurant to identify which tower in which to park. It is validated. A walkway leads past a small and beautifully landscaped pond to the restaurant’s entrance.

The interior is divided into a bar area and several rooms. One of the rooms is like a “garden” room, with views of the landscaping. Booths and tables are arranged comfortably. The main room is divided by archways sheathed in a light colored wood that accentuates the separation without dominating it.

The bar area is set against the wall near the entrance, a large area of wood, mirrors and shiny bottles. The original Harry’s, in Venice, was famous for its cocktails, especially its dry martini made of 10 parts gin to one part vermouth. The La Jolla version has its own list of heady, tasty cocktails.

The menu offers a selection of dishes prepared by recipes from all over Italy. Antipasti include carpaccio di bue, thinly sliced raw beef, light mustard sauce, capers and shaved parmigiana. Or, try the tortino di granchini, crab cakes, with cilantro oil. One of my favorites, a dish prepared in only a few restaurants – bone marrow served with grilled ciabatta.

Pastas include linguini frutti de mare, linguini tossed with shrimps, mussels, clams, and calamari. Lasagna is always a favorite, made with chicken for a lighter dish.

Carnivores, though, find a real sanctuary at Harry’s. The costollette di vitello or the New York steak, each a large 14 ounce, are grilled to perfection.

The wine list features selections mostly from Italy or California, with many available by the glass at reasonable prices.



Harry’s Bar and American Grill is a comfortable setting in which to enjoy good food and a sense of history. In addition to dinner, the restaurant is popular for business lunches, particularly by occupants of the many corporate offices in the neighborhood. And there is a weekday happy hour from 3:30 to 7 p.m., with discounts on appetizers, beer and wine. Prices are moderate. Reservations are recommended. The restaurant is located 4370 La Jolla Village Dr. Call (858) 373-1252.

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