The Coogans run The Wharf with a family focus

Will Coogan behind one of two bars at the family-run Wharf Restaurant and Pub in Edgartown. — Photo by Susan Safford

The popular Wharf Pub and Restaurant is a family affair. Liza Coogan and her three children own the restaurant in the heart of Edgartown, which attracts a year-round clientele that adds a familiarity to the dining room.

The Coogan kids were all born and educated through high school on the Vineyard. Will, 38, manages the day-to-day operation of the business. Geoghan, 36, a lawyer in Vineyard Haven, pitches in with his legal skills. Sister Nell, 33, an attorney and legislative liaison for Martha’s Vineyard’s state representative Tim Madden, will help when asked and often fills the role of hostess.

Their deceased father, Edmund Coogan, was a well-known Vineyard Haven lawyer and selectman.

In business since 1933, the Wharf was purchased by the Coogan family in 2004. The 120-seat restaurant is open year-round, seven days a week, in a town where many seasonal businesses close for the winter.

The two dining rooms provide a warm, comfortable ambiance, with booths and dark, varnished knotty pine throughout. The adjacent pub side is an intimate and busy local bar popular with local residents.

Red Sox played into it

In 2004, when the Boston Red Sox broke “the curse” and won the World Series, Will and Geoghan thought it might a lucky time for them as well, according to their mom. That’s when they decided to buy The Wharf.

After college, at St. Michael’s in Vermont, Will spent eight years as a struggling actor in Los Angeles. He returned to the Island with his future bride, Kristen Knight, in tow. He was managing the restaurant Alchemy alongside Anthony Carestia, who is now married to sister Nell, when The Wharf owners at the time, the McGroartys, decided to sell.

The Coogan children were not new to the restaurant business. Will and Geoghan had worked at the Wharf through high school and college. Nell had waitressed around the Island. Will had washed dishes at the Black Dog, bartended at The Blarney Stone in Vermont, and at Dublins in L.A.

His mother said, “Will felt he knew the drama and the struggle of restaurant/pub life, and The Wharf had always felt like home. It had the respect of the community and the ambiance of a well-kept Boston pub.”

John Shepard stayed on as head chef for the first few years of Coogan ownership which made the transition easier than it might have been, according to Liza.

Finding help to keep the business going has never been difficult. Because of the family’s many Island connections, there’s always been a large pool of enthusiastic recruits ready to step in. At least 20 of Will’s high school contemporaries have worked at the Wharf over the years. “New Year’s Eve is a hilarious event because half the patrons have known each other since grade school,” Liza said.

Everyone in the family pitches in with advice and Liza thinks they would be consulted on important decisions, even while she is grateful that there hasn’t been a need to make any “important decisions.” She has been pushing for more vegetarian items on the menu and is happy to report that her advice has had some effect.

The menu is best described as family fare with a decided tilt toward Island specialties. The menu includes Island seafood favorites like stuffed quahogs, little necks, fried oysters, scallops, lobster and a seafood platter, along with turf favorites like ribs, pork chops, black angus New York Strip steak and their Friday night special, prime rib. There are hefty salads and vegetarian dishes. Prices range from $6 to $16 for starters, soups and salads and begin at $16 for entrées with most in the $20 range.

To keep the restaurant thriving, “it has to run full steam all year,” according to Will. Winters are as vital as summers, he added. As much as he appreciates the business of year-round patrons, he thinks they appreciate the restaurant’s commitment to year-round service.

“If we know what they want, we will keep them coming back,” he said. He has kept the McGroarty tradition of discounting meals for honor roll students and the restaurant is known for its frequent support of Island sports teams and other Island activities.

The Wharf Pub and Restaurant first opened its doors as The Edgartown Café, or just the Kafe as it was called, in 1933. Ralph Levinson of Edgartown started the restaurant. It was a favorite stop for Edgartown fisherman and yacht club sailors for years, a place where one could always get a good steak. Brion McGroarty and his family operated the business as “The Wharf” until its sale in 2004.

It is one of a few Edgartown restaurants that stays open all winter. “It is an oasis in the desert of winter Edgartown,” one local pundit opined.

Sporting events are televised in the bar and the back room. The back room has its own bar and is the location of frequent live music and a night a week of trivia. It is also rented out for parties and receptions.

For more information, call 508-627-9966 or go to