Happy as a Clam on Hampton Beach

Owner Says Restaurant is the Best 'Dive' on the Strip

By Patrick Cronin

Hampton Union, Tuesday, June 23, 2009

[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online.]
Kevin O'Brien, owner of the Happy Clam, sits outside on the restaurant's deck. The mural in the background was painted freestyle by one of his bartenders.

HAMPTON -- Kevin O'Brien bills his restaurant and bar on the corner of Ashworth Avenue and 'L' Street as one of the best "dives" on Hampton Beach.

"We are the best dive on the beach, but I mean it in a good way," O'Brien said. "I like to call this the 'blue collars' restaurant. This is come-as-you-are and have some fun."

O'Brien took ownership of the Happy Clam back in 2007, and has transformed the place into what some are now calling a hidden gem at the beach.

And while he likes to call it a dive, it's really anything but.

When you first enter the small establishment you feel like you're sitting in a local hangout on some Caribbean island.

The former U.S. Navy intelligence officer said he fell in love with "island life" when he served three years in Bermuda and wanted to replicate that at Hampton Beach.

"It's kind of like an oasis even during the winter," said O'Brien, noting the decor of bright colors and island flags.

O'Brien said he calls the place a "dive" because they don't have fancy napkins or expensive tablecloths. But what they do have, he said, is a lot of heart.

"We go out of our way to make sure people feel comfortable," O'Brien said. "I want people to have a fun time.

"We don't turn away people if they are coming back from the beach and they are sandy," he said. "We take you as you are."

Serving breakfast, lunch and dinner, O'Brien said the food is what makes the Happy Clam stand out at the beach and why customers keep coming back.

He said the staff purchases nothing but the freshest ingredients and buys all the seafood locally.

"We have 14 different appetizers, burgers, chicken and specialities like Cuban steak sandwiches and Jamaican jerk chicken," O'Brien said. "I sound like I'm beating my chest, but I'm very proud of the food we put out."

So proud, in fact, that he issues a challenge to the other restaurants on the beach.

"I would put my food against anyone at the beach," O'Brien said.

The Happy Clam is also known for its signature drinks — like the Fish Bowl and their Bloody Mary mix — and the entertainment, which Thursday through Saturday is karaoke.

O'Brien said he always wanted to own a restaurant and even toyed with the idea of opening up a jazz and blues club at the beach. While that opportunity never materialized, owning the Happy Clam did.

"The opportunity just came to me," said O'Brien, who was working at the restaurant as its general manager at the time. "I came full circle. I started as a door man and within three months became manager, and now I own it."

As owner, he made Sunday night "blues night."

One of the regulars said O'Brien has completely transformed the place for the better.

"Everyone bends over backwards to make you feel welcome," said Kevin Thompson. "They treat you like family here.

"Everything is excellent and if it isn't, he takes care of it," he said, pointing to O'Brien.

The Happy Clam is open seven days and is located on the corner of Ashworth Avenue and L Street.

The Happy Clam Bar & Grille

Owner: Kevin O'Brien
Location: 20 'L' Street, Hampton Beach
(Corner of 'L' Street and Ashworth Avenue)
Telephone: 929-1536
Hours: Open seven days a week; breakfast, lunch, dinner.