Harrison’s Harbor Watch Celebrates 40 Years of Waterfront Dining in Ocean City

A landmark on the Ocean City Boardwalk since its opening forty years ago, Harrison’s Harbor Watch and Rawbar continues to draw crowds with its timeless charm, fresh seafood, and unparalleled views of the inlet.

The Harrison Family

The Harrison family has been invested in the Berlin and Ocean City area for several generations.  Starting in 1884, Berlin farmer Joseph George Harrison began growing peaches in the Berlin area.  This business expanded and soon became the world’s largest grower of fruit trees and ornamental shrubbery in the 1920’s.  As the peach business declined in the early 1960’s, brothers Hale and John Harrison entered the hospitality and restaurant business in Ocean City.  Exactly 100 years after George Harrison’s entrepreneurial idea, Hale and John opened Harrison’s Harbor Watch Restaurant and Raw Bar in 1984.  Although the family later expanded its hotel and restaurant base, Harrison’s Harbor Watch has continued to be the only free-standing restaurant in the family’s Ocean City portfolio. 

Jeb Vetock, Food and Beverage Director of the Harrison Group Hotels and Restaurants, states, “Harrison’s Harbor Watch is celebrating its 40th anniversary this summer. From that first summer in 1984 the goal was always to treat each customer like they were a VIP. We have had the privilege of watching families come each season, getting to know them and watching their families grow.” 

The Building and its Location

Harrison’s Harbor Watch is a very popular, 444 seat, two-story seafood restaurant with views of the Atlantic Ocean, Assateague Island, and the commercial fishing harbor. 

The restaurant was opened in 1984 by brothers John and Hale Harrison of Harrison Group Hotels. The building itself is supported with large timber columns and beams and the large windows that give Harbor Watch guests one of the best views on the East Coast. The unobstructed view of the Assateague Island Maryland State Park as well as the national seashore provides diners with a one-of-a-kind experience. The wild horses of Assateague, dolphins swimming through the inlet, pelicans and hundreds of recreational and commercial boats passing by creates a feast for the eyes. In the evening the restaurant has large lights on the roof that illuminate the Ocean City inlet and jetty on the north end of Assateague. With the inlet lit up, small bait fish are attracted to the surface which in turn attract other larger fish and local fishermen of course. The Ocean City seagulls also get in on the action floating with the current through the illuminated waterway. Just when they get out of the cast of the rooftop lights, they will fly up from the water, go back to the other end to enjoy the light show and the benefits it brings once again. 

tremendous views of the OC Inlet and Assateague Island

Due to its size and breathtaking views, Harbor Watch is a popular place for large, medium and even small events.  It’s ideal for wedding venues, receptions, banquets, and organizational meetings.  The second floor has been the home to thousands of stunning sunset wedding receptions, banquets, and fund raisers for up to 275 people.

The Menu

Surf & Turf

The restaurant has a large menu that caters to both seafood lovers and land fare lovers alike. Locally sourced seafood such as day boat scallops, yellowfin tuna, mahi mahi, and lobsters are purchased from the commercial fishing harbor throughout the year. Oysters and clams are sourced from local watermen and prominently featured in dishes at our award-winning raw bar including the famous made to order oyster stew. The raw bar offers guests a unique front row experience of watching oysters and clams shucked in front of their seats, and shrimp, clams and crab legs simmering in the pots right at the bar. 

Some famous dishes that have stood the test of time include baked clams casino, Ludwig’s mussels, Mr. Harrison’s rockfish blackened In Cajun seasoning and topped with crab imperial, homemade soups, a variety of seafood pastas and combination platters. The number one seller however is always the famous crab cake that never has any filler, breadcrumbs or crackers to hold it together. Simply crab meat and seasoning broiled to a golden brown. 

An early saying at the restaurant was, “Seafood so fresh, it will make you blush.”

Charbroiled steaks are prominently featured and hand cut daily. Only the finest Black Angus beef is sourced for its state program which features a variety of standalone steaks and surf and turf combinations. 

Unlimited Sides

Since the restaurant opened in 1984, one of the most unique menu offerings is the unlimited side dishes that are offered with each meal. Customers can enjoy as many helpings of the side dishes including our famous red potatoes, wild rice, vegetable of the day, crisp fries, summertime coleslaw, and Eastern Shore cucumber salad.

They also offer gluten free selections and several children’s choices, too.

Raw Bar & Appetizers

Of special note is the raw bar and meal starters that complement the entrée selections.  Just imagine; bacon wrapped scallops, baked oysters Rockefeller, steamed clams, crab dip, and so much more, make Harbor Watch’s raw bar line-up unparalleled in area restaurants.  Harrison’s Harbor Watch was recently awarded as the best Raw Bar category in the 2024 “Best Of Ocean City” contest by OceanCity.com!  Its signature starter is its famous Oyster Stew.  This Oyster Stew is made to order at the raw bar.  For many, Harbor Watch’s Oyster Stew is the best they have ever tasted. 

Matching its great raw bar are the homemade soups; these include Maryland crab, cream of crab soup and lobster bisque. 

Lots of Beverage Options

Harbor Watch provides an assortment of non-alcoholic beverages such as soda, ice tea, and fresh coffee. And these come with free refills!  Juices, mineral and bottle water area available, too.

An assortment of beers, on draft and bottles, craft and national names are available.  A good selection of cocktails, frozen drinks and wines are provided. 

The Service

Harbor Watch prides itself on its excellent service to its customers.  Many of its customers are intergenerational parents and their kids who have returned to dine at this same restaurant for many, many years.  In fact, a number of the restaurant staff have continued to serve at this popular eatery.  Several employees have worked at this restaurant for ten, fifteen, and twenty years or more!  It is not uncommon to find some of the employees working as teachers during the school year and then working at the restaurant with their summers off.    It is this consistency of its customer and employee base that has continued the success of this long-standing eatery and bar. 

Jeb Vetock started working at Harrison’s Harbor Watch in 1997.  He started as a busboy during his summer breaks from college and continued to work and learn the other services at the restaurant from serving tables to working the famous raw bar.  He eventually worked his way up to his current position as Food and Beverage Director.  He said he met his wife while working here in 1989 and she continues to work at the raw bar today!

According to Vetock, “None of this happens without the amazing teams that come together each season to welcome our guests. Each year the core team welcomes around 100 new faces and is tasked with getting each team member of the speed on the operation, standards, and the Harrison Group approach to hospitality.”

The Atmosphere

As one enters into Harbor Watch, take in the nostalgic look and environment showcased in the full restaurant and bar area.  The seafood and nautical works are located on almost all the walls and often hanging from the ceiling. Even the bar area contains old photos encased in the wood work.  Preserving this seafaring tradition of old Ocean City is a major part of the story being told and experienced through a visit to Harbor Watch.  It has been this traditional feel that has remained in this restaurant since its beginnings. 

Besides the food and beverage, the highlight for many is looking out the expansive windows to view the Ocean City area and northern section of Assateague Island.  Common to see are passing boats, fishing boats along the jetty, and plenty of birds.  With luck, some may spot a passing dolphin entering the inlet or even a pony on Assateague Island from their dinner chair. 

Recent customer comments:

Michael E. – “Being a local born and raised I still enjoy Harrison’s fine food.  I brought in a couple nights ago, our Vice Presidents and President of our company (14).  Our dinner was fantastic and the service was excellent.  Thank you.”

Janice H.  – “Can’t wait to come down.  We always come to dinner 2 times during our week.”

Debra M. – “Love this restaurant.”

Lori W.  – “Wonderful views, excellent food and great service… especially Wanda.”

Cheryl C. – “Love Harrisons harbor watch, good food, and watching for dolphins.”

Mellisa M.  – “My favorite restaurant on the planet!”

Importance to Ocean City and the Boardwalk

Vetock adds, “Over 40 years a lot of places have come and gone in Ocean City yet Harrison’s Harbor Watch still stands at the south end of the Ocean City boardwalk, proudly offering guests a destination for a memorable meal. The Harrison family invites you to join us this summer for our 40th anniversary. We look forward to welcoming you through our doors and provide you with outstanding food, exceptional service, and a breathtaking view.” 

Harbor Watch is more than just good food and drink.  It’s experiencing the maritime history of Ocean City and the surrounding area.  It’s exactly this feel and taste that Hale and John Harrison envisioned for their restaurant and bar customers and which continues forty years later.