With South Florida’s constant development, there are very few remnants of old Florida in this corner of the state. Yet, in Lighthouse Point, one spot survives — Cap’s Place, a classic Florida seafood restaurant, onetime speakeasy and gambling den, draped in Florida history. If you haven’t been there, you need to go, just to get a sense of what this area was like before the takeover by strip malls and asphalt.
Originally built in the 1920s, Cap’s Place is the oldest structure in Lighthouse Point and the oldest restaurant in Broward County. In 1990 it was nominated to the National Register of Historic Places. Author Carmen McGarry calls Cap's Place, "A landmark comparable to no other in South Florida, it has withstood Prohibition, mobsters, depression, wars, the ravages of nature, and many joyful and peaceful times for nearly a century.”
Knight was born into a seafaring family in Cape Canaveral in 1871. His father, grandfather, and brother were all lighthouse keepers and it’s reputed Knight may have been born in the Canaveral Lighthouse. Knight left home at age 13 to join the merchant marine and spent more than three decades as a mariner. He started as a mess boy on a lighthouse tender, progressed to mate, and by 1919 became a Master on the Morgan Line Steamers plying New York to New Orleans.
In 1916, Knight married his second wife, Lola Saunders, a schoolteacher for the children of lighthouse employees and fishermen around Hillsboro Inlet. Cap soon settled near his brother, Tom, who was a Hillsboro lighthouse tender. About the same time, Knight befriended Pittsburgh émigré Albert Hasis, who like Knight, had left home at 13 to find his fortune. Cap and Al developed a friendship that would eventually blossom into a business partnership.
In 1928, Knight and Hasis began constructing what they would call Club Unique, starting with a beached dredging barge once owned by Flagler’s company. With hardscrabble effort, they built structures using available materials like local cypress, Dade County Pine, Everglade’s bamboo and even Cuban mahogany.
According to the National Register of Historic Places, “Fishnets served as curtains and parts of ships, rope, driftwood, and harpoons hung haphazardly from the ceilings.” The walls were lined with shark jaws and rattlesnake skins. Hasis built the distinctive bar using a bowsprit salvaged from a sunken wreck. The bar is topped with old ship decking. Hawser lines used on the original barge are wrapped around a large piling in the bar.
While named Club Unique, it’s always been known locally as Cap’s Place, and from the outset was a hideaway with gambling, liquor, and dining. Slot machines lined the halls, a wheel of fortune hung in the bar, and games like blackjack and roulette were available. Private memberships to the supper club were sold for 25 cents. At the behest of gamblers in the 1930s, red carpet was laid in the main dining room, thereafter known as the Poinsettia Room.
Over the years, Cap’s Place was visited by a notable cast of characters including Vanderbilts and Rockefellers; actors Errol Flynn and Humphrey Bogart; sports figures Jack Dempsey and Joe DiMaggio; and even mobster Al Capone. Oral history suggests Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt may have dined there during a strategy meeting amid World War II.
Cap’s Place was almost lost in 1954 when a development group planned to bulldoze what they viewed as “jungle” to build the area’s first yacht club. Fortunately, the project never materialized and the parcel remained fairly unscathed. Cap died in 1964 at the age of 90. Lola, two sons, and Al Hasis continued to operate the restaurant after his death. Lola retired in the mid-1970s and passed away in 1989; the Hasis family assumed ownership of the restaurant and continues running it today.
Cap's Place via Cap's Dock, 2765 NE 28th Ct., Lighthouse Point; 954-941-0418; capsplace.com. Open Tuesday through Sunday from 5:30 p.m.