By Tom Marshall
The site of one of San Clemente’s first great restaurants has reopened following a renovation of the building. The new OC Fresca offers a unique menu of what managing general partner Pedro Robles calls a California take on Latin food, with a full bar featuring juice-based cocktails and a dozen draft beers.
Robles, born in Mexico, has worked in restaurants in several European countries, Morocco, and California.
While the restaurant is new, the building is not. Built in 1930 at 1814 N. El Camino Real in North Beach, the building originally housed The Aquarium Cafe. San Clemente Assistant Planner Jonathan Lightfoot said the original layout included a small dance floor in the center, surrounded by dining tables, with a large aquarium on the side, filled with all sorts of live fish and other sea creatures.
To feed fresh saltwater to the aquarium, the original builders somehow built a long pipe from the ocean, several hundred feet away, under the railroad tracks and into the aquarium. The pipe and aquarium have long since been removed.
Sadly, the original owner, Joe Servus, committed suicide in the building just a month before the restaurant was to open. Newspaper accounts at the time reported that his widow, Emma, did finally open it a short time later.
Lois Divel, San Clemente’s Matriarch, remembers the restaurant fondly.
“It was one of the favorite places to take children, especially. They loved looking at all the fish. It was the place to go in its time,” Divel recalled.
She also notes that the seafood was fresh and excellent; however, The Aquarium Cafe did not have a bar because of Prohibition.
“But if you wanted a drink, Emma would go into her bedroom (she had an apartment in back of the restaurant) where she kept some liquor, and she’d mix a drink and bring it out to you,” Divel said.
Eventually, The Aquarium Café closed, and the building became The Anchor Inn Sea Food Restaurant, then Margarita’s Village, then Ichibiri Japanese Restaurant.
The owners of OC Fresca renovated the main room ceiling panels, which, for the first time in decades, reveal the original skylight in the center of what is now the bar area. They also lightened the wood beams and panels, bringing the room back to its original airy appearance—minus the fish tanks, of course. There is also a large patio with an ocean view.
The renovations couldn’t come at a more opportune time as the city, working with the Historical Society and North Beach Community Association, is planning to designate the North Beach area a Historic District. More on that in a future column.
Tom Marshall is a member of the San Clemente Historical Society and a retired journalist.