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Billy's provides a great dine with a view

January 30, 2003

Stephen Santacroce

The sea has always had a strong allure for most people, and most

coastal towns' restaurants that are intent on making the view part of

their overall dining experience populate a good portion of the

waterfront.

Seaside restaurants are popular with locals and tourists alike.

The former take pride in their luck for living in such a picturesque

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area, and the latter want to spend as much of their vacation dollars

as possible on or near the water.

Unfortunately, it seems like most waterfront restaurateurs focus

more on the setting than on the menu, the result being a decided lack

of true quality dining. Nevertheless, anytime I have visitors, I am

invariably asked if we can dine by the water, and I feel obliged to

accommodate them.

One of the spots I like to take my out-of-town guests is Billy's

at the Beach, perched on Coast Highway with beautiful view of the

bay. Billy is Billy Craig, a longtime Newport resident who has run

the restaurant with son Rick since it opened in 1993. Today, Rick

handles most of the management chores, while dad handles the local

PR.

Through trial and error, I've decided that simple is best when it

comes to waterfront dining. For the most part, Billy's succeeds when

it tries to be the least pretentious. The theme at Billy's is 1960s

Hawaiian. Rattan-lined walls sport Gauguin replicas and prints of

Hawaiian surf scenes and are accented with bamboo posts. The carpets

and upholstery feature tropical prints, and the overall atmosphere is

casual and relaxing. Of course, the main dining room has one wall

taken up by floor to ceiling glass windows fronting Newport Harbor.

To the right, as one enters, is the Tiki Bar, always crowded with

local revelers. Past the bar is a doorway leading to an outdoor patio

that opened in September and features seating for al fresco dining,

as well as another full bar for outdoor partying. The only way to

dine closer to the water would be on a boat.

The signature drink at the Tiki Bar is the mai tai (you were

expecting White Russians?), a potent blend of fruit juices and light

and dark rums. It's a refreshing libation that definitely conjures up

images of the islands, but be forewarned -- have more than one, and

you'll probably see other images, as well. Definitely have a

designated driver if mai tais are part of your game plan.

Judging by the crowds at both bars, Billy's is a popular hangout

to people-watch and enjoy the live bands that entertain on the

weekends.

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