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Haven to merchant marines and civilians alike

By: David Knickerbocker

Date Posted: 2002-01-24

The Seamen’s Club, located a few kilometers north of Naha Airport on Highway 58, is an all-in-one establishment geared to serve the merchant marines in nearly every way possible. This complex has a variety of services available including a restaurant, bar, library room, gift shop, party and banquet rooms, game room, a money order facility, telephones and more. As part of the United Seamen’s Service, its primary purpose is to assist the ships and sailors that bring in supplies for the U.S. military.

“Our mission is to take care of ships that bring in cargo predominantly for the American military,” says Walt Christiansen, center director of the Seamen’s Club. “This is their haven. We are to the merchant marines what the USO is to the military. We cater to them.”

The ships bringing materials for the U.S. military take a 42-day trip from California to Alaska, Japan, Korea, Okinawa, China, Hong Kong and finally back to California. Only on day 25 do the sailors get off their ship, so their time on land is greatly valued. “If you’ve never been stuck on a ship, then you can’t appreciate what coming ashore means to those who are out to sea,” says Christiansen. “We’ll see at least one-third of the crew who comes to shore. You can always spot them because as soon as they come in, they head straight to the phones to call their families. Then they head in and buy postcards, gifts and souvenirs for family and friends.” The gift shop has several American, Japanese and Okinawan items available for purchase, and the club will ship your gifts wherever you want them sent.

Though the primary clientele of the Seamen’s Club are merchant marines, the complex receives customers from all over the island. “We have some customers from Kinser and Foster, but more come from the northern bases such as Kadena, Hansen, Schwab and Courtney. They like the atmosphere, and getting away from their bases on the expressway takes a lot of the headache away. It’s more difficult to catch the expressway from Foster and Kinser than Kadena and the northern bases,” Christiansen explains.

However, once a customer comes, they’re hooked. “We have a good return rate,” says Christiansen. “Merchant seamen are our primary clientele, but we have SOFA status here, so we can make our services available to the military, and also to the Japanese by invitation only. This helps promote cultural support.”

The club has bilingual menus, and prices are comparable to those of the military clubs. A number of people made the mistake of thinking that the Seamen’s Club was an American military club, however, so when Okuma and the Kadena Marina closed down, many thought they had shut down as well. “They were surprised that we were still open, and we are starting to get a lot of them back,” says Christiansen. After the Sept. 11 attacks, business took a dive all over the world, and the Seamen’s Club took a loss with the rest of the island. “Prior to the attacks, we were moving in the right direction, but after the attacks, everybody was deploying,” notes Christiansen. “Since then, we have started coming back up, but the whole island took a dip.”

Open 365 days a year from 11:00 a.m. to midnight Monday through Friday and 10:00 a.m. to midnight on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays, the club has it all. Since opening in 1950, the restaurant has earned a reputation for serving the best steaks on island. Restaurant hours are 11:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. Fridays, and 10:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. Saturdays, Sundays and holidays. The bar-lounge is open daily from 5:00 p.m. to midnight.

No matter what your budget, the Seamen’s club has something for everyone: breakfast meals from $4.95 for a combination omelet to $10.95 for steak and eggs; steaks from $9.50 for a hamburger steak to $16.95 for a T-bone; seafood from $10.25 for flounder to $24.50 for lobster; and dinner favorites from $8.95 for fried chicken to $18.95 for shrimp and beef.

If you’d like to use one of the party rooms for your own organized event, reservations are just a phone call away. “Our party room can seat up to 60 people and is often used for dinners, parties, offsite training and seminars,” says Christiansen. “We also have a “High-Tide” area in our dining room fit for 10 people or less. This area is used for meetings, small lunches, small groups and people seeking a little more privacy than the dining room can give.” Also, if you are planning on coming to the Seaman’s Club as part of a group of eight or more, reservations are recommended. “Murphy’s Law will have it that when you show up, half of the dining room will already be full,” says Christiansen sarcastically.

Driving to the Seamen’s Club is easy. Take Highway 58 south of Naha until the road forks to the right for Itoman and the airport. Take this right and go straight until the road forks again. Take the airport route. After a short while, you will see the Seamen’s Club on your right. Once you drive past the club, make your first possible U-turn and turn left into the restaurant’s parking lot.

Are you looking for a special, classy place to bring your sweetheart on Valentine’s Day? The Seamen’s Club will be having a Sweetheart Dinner on Thursday, Feb. 14 and Friday, Feb. 15, from 6:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. The dinner will include seafood pasta, clam chowder, filet of beef in wine sauce, veal medallions, asparagus in cream sauce, sweetheart sweets dessert, white or red wine and a rose for the lady. Tickets can be purchased in advance at the Seamen’s Club gift shop for $49.95 per couple or $30.95 per person.

The Seamen’s Club is a great service to incoming merchant marines, but it is also a dining experience you won’t want to miss. The meals are generously portioned and affordable, and the setting is classy. For more information or to make reservations, call 098-857-1753 or 637-7485.

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