Destin legend lives on in Harry T's

Annie Blanks | 315-4450 | @DestinLogAnnie |
This undated photo shows Harry T's at its original location on the Destin Harbor. The restaurant later moved to the HarborWalk Village. SPECIAL TO THE LOG

Have you heard of the legend of Harrison Thomas Babe?

As the story goes, Babe, or “Harry T” as most would know him, was a trapeze artist turned war hero who settled in Destin in the early 1900s. He had a rich and interesting story that included befriending a giraffe during his time in the circus, acquiring a substantial Meerschaum pipe collection during World War I and founding a sunset tour business on the Choctawhatchee Bay. 

Today, the legend of Harry T lives on the form of his namesake Destin restaurant, which also happens to be one the city’s oldest eateries. Harry T’s opened Valentine’s Day 1987 as Harry T’s Boathouse on the Destin harbor and then moved down to Harborwalk Village in 2008 and became Harry T’s Lighthouse.

“The story of Harry T really is a great one,” said Peter Bos, the owner of the restaurant. “He was a circus performer, then he was a war hero. He and his siblings were all named after presidents.” 

Today, the restaurant features photos and memorabilia all over the walls that pay homage to the illustrious folklore figure. General manager Dan Empson enjoys walking around the restaurant and pointing out the various artifacts that tell the story of Harry T. 

“It’s important to keep this legend alive because it’s a neat part of Destin and it’s the reason for this restaurant,” Empson said. “The whole legend is held together by the artifacts on these walls.”

Within the walls is a vibrant, casual restaurant that features menu items such as grouper sandwiches and fried shrimp. Empson estimates that between 20 and 30 percent of the menu is the same as it was in 1987, thought the prices have changed just a bit. 

“Not much else has changed, though. The basics will always be there,” he said. “We’ve always wanted to exceed the expectations of the guest. We want to make sure the guest is taken care of, no matter what they want to have done.” 

At Harry T’s, that includes guests with four legs. In 2009, Harry T’s went to the Destin City Council and acquired the state of Florida’s first ever Doggy Dining permit. The permit allows the restaurant to have a special section for guests who want to bring their pups to the restaurant with them. Harry T’s provides bacon pieces, treats and water bowls while their human counterparts dine alongside them at outdoor tables. 

“Dogs are my favorite customers,” Empson said. “They love where they’re sitting and they love what you’re feeding them, no matter what.” 

In keeping with its dog-friendly atmosphere, the restaurant also keeps a donation box for the Destin Dog Park, and donates $1 from each sale of its special Pooch Hooch cocktail to Alaqua Animal Refuge and Feline Friends of Destin. 

In addition to animal-friendly charities, Harry T’s donates a portion of its T-shirt sales to scholarship funds for students planning to attend University of Florida, Florida State University and The University of Oklahoma. They also sell items to raise money for people suffering from pancreatic cancer and breast cancer. 

“I’ve been in this business for 52 years,” Empson said. “And the older I get, the more I want to give back.”