The DoubleTree hotel at the Berkeley Marina is debuting its new locally sourced restaurant, the Berkeley Boathouse, this Friday.

Formerly the Bay Grille & Bar, the Berkeley Boathouse is the centerpiece of an $8-million refresh that its owners, DoubleTree by Hilton Hotels, started two years ago. General manager Jack Hlavac said the project focused on modernizing the 42-year-old, 378-room hotel, which features an unobstructed view of San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge.

“In this business, you need to stay relevant, and what’s more relevant than a sustainable restaurant?” said Hlavac.

The 2,500-square-foot restaurant got a complete makeover, sporting a new nautical-themed interior, designed by Bar Napkin, that takes full advantage of its bay view. Its outdoor patio, deck, fireplace and bocce ball court all got a refresh in the process, too.

The Berkeley Boathouse interior. Photo: Peter Christiansen Valli

The restaurant also has a brand new menu designed by its first chef de cuisine, 36-year-old Matthew Thomas. Born and raised in Arkansas, Thomas came to the Berkeley Boathouse at the beginning of this year after working four years at Meritage and Limewood Bar & Restaurant, both at the Claremont Hotel, and two years at Acquerello in San Francisco before that.

Influences on Thomas’ menu span the globe (with his Italian background and Southern roots, playing a large role) and meet a spectrum of diets. While the Bay Grille had a more traditional California-diner menu focusing on salads, sandwiches, starters and some entrees, Berkeley Boathouse goes the way of more modern restaurants, with a more varied mix of offerings, including small plates meant for sharing, composed salads, burgers and sandwiches, and several larger entrees.

The vegetable risotto — with baby zucchini, balsamic blistered tomato, parsnip threads and basil oil — at Berkeley Boathouse. The dish is both vegan and gluten-free.
The vegetable risotto — with baby zucchini, balsamic blistered tomato, parsnip threads and basil oil — at Berkeley Boathouse. The dish is both vegan and gluten-free. Photo: Chris Schmauch

The one remaining Bay Grille dish is the artichoke dip, but Thomas said he put his own twist on the former restaurant’s short rib, turning it into a version made with bison short rib served with horseradish mashed potatoes and asparagus tips. He also added a few vegetarian options, such as a housemade ricotta cavatelli with wild mushroom conserva and lollipop kale, and a vegan, gluten-free vegetable risotto.

“It’s so good you can’t tell it’s vegan,” said Thomas.

As do many restaurants in the area, Berkeley Boathouse purports to source locally, using ingredients from California and Bay Area purveyors. Being a restaurant on the water, the menu features plenty of dishes featuring local and sustainable seafood such as mussels in Thai green curry with California chili oil and Thomas’ personal favorite, seared scallops served with a celery root puree and Romano beans, corn pancetta and Russet potatoes. The gelato on the dessert menu comes from Almare Gelato in Berkeley.

The bar will offer local draft beer from Fieldwork BrewingTrumer and Gilman Brewing and a curated, but copious list of California wines by the glass and bottle from wineries in Napa, Livermore, Russian River, Sonoma County and beyond. As for cocktails, the bar’s focus is on whiskey, gin and barrel-aged spirits. The California Gin + Tonic has a local bent, using Junípero Gin, made by Anchor Distilling in San Francisco.

Hlavac says the hotel’s goal for the new Berkeley Boathouse was to not only attract locals to enjoy the food and view, but to provide a Berkeley experience to guests visiting from all over the world who don’t have much time to travel around the city.

“That was the encompassing driver: to reposition the hotel, activate the local food and beverage offerings and exterior space, and really bring in the environment into the overall experience,” said Hlavac.

For Thomas, his vision for the hotel restaurant — the first eatery for which he’s designed the menu — is mainly to give a reason for guests to keep coming back.

“This is Berkeley. There’s hundreds of restaurants that you have to go to. We just want people to come back to ours more than they go to others,” said Thomas.

Berkeley Boathouse hours will be 6-11 a.m. for breakfast; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.

Kevin L. Jones is a freelance journalist and audio producer who lives in El Cerrito. See more of his work at