Mobile’s The Mariner restaurant still open, despite upcoming auction

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There’s no telling how many potential customers heading out to dinner at The Mariner recently have turned around when they spotted the sign at the corner of Dauphin Island Parkway and Bayou Road announcing that the restaurant and adjacent Grand Mariner marina will be sold at an estate auction on Saturday, April 8.
“The auction signs have made a lot of people mad,” acknowledged Jean Carlson, who owns one-quarter of the property, along with her three siblings.
And even though she consented to the auction, Carlson said she was the last one to sign the paperwork. “I would like to keep the restaurant open,” she said. “It’s been around for almost 50 years.”
The restaurant is located at the end of Rock Point Road, on the upstairs level of a building that sits right on the edge of Dog River. Downstairs, there are restrooms and a store where boaters can dock and buy gas, soft drinks, snacks and bait.
The Mariner offers a relaxed, casual atmosphere, with large picture windows overlooking the river. Little has changed in the dining room over the years, and that’s the way diners like it. The upstairs deck is a popular place to observe the boat traffic coming under the arching Dog River Bridge, where the river flows into Mobile Bay, and to watch the sun set.
“Where else do you have a restaurant where customers give you hugs when you see them?” said Carlson, whose parents, Eddie and Louise Carlson, bought what was then known as the SS Marina in 1982. At the time, Hollis Gray leased the restaurant.
Herb Frost originally built the marina on property he owned along Dog River. Then Bill Moore built the restaurant. It was later owned by Jay Troutman, who also ran the Bluejay Lounge in Springdale Plaza. (The famous crab claws, fried in an orange batter, originated at the Bluejay.)
In 1995, Jean Carlson began running The Mariner, a stint that lasted 20 years. During that time, Carlson and her three siblings each inherited a quarter-share of the marina when their mother died.
In 2015, another family leased the marina, taking the restaurant, too, as part of the package.
But that lease expired, and Carlson found herself back at The Mariner in February, calling the shots.
“Now all of us are in there together on the marina and restaurant,” Carlson said, explaining that they’re waiting to see how the auction turns out. “If no one offers enough, we’ll keep it and run it ourselves.”
Inside the restaurant recently, the wait staff fielded questions from every table about the auction signs. But, like their boss, they remained optimistic that The Mariner isn’t going anywhere.
“It’s been so good to see the employees again,” Carlson said, following her two-year absence. “We’re happy to be together again. There are so many left over from the first crew when I was there.”
Since she’s been back at the restaurant, Carlson said, she often thinks of the Dr. Seuss book “Horton Hears a Who!” In it, Horton the elephant tries to protect the microscopic community of Whoville, which no one but Horton can see.
Like the Whos, she said, “We’re here! We’re here! Come see us.”
This is actually the start of the busiest time of year for The Mariner, she said, with daylight saving time extending the hours that the deck is open. Inside the restaurant, the faces are familiar, the environment is familiar, the food is familiar — it’s just those signs that are a little unnerving.
“It’s getting a little scary,” Carlson admitted as the auction date approached. “If somebody buys it and builds condos, (the staff is) out of a job.”
She said, “I sure would like the see the restaurant go on, and so many wonderful customers would, too. It’s just a very cool corner of the world.”
For now, The Mariner is open Monday through Thursday from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m., and Sunday from noon to 9 p.m.
For more information about the auction, visit Coastal Auction’s website at www.coastalauction.com/auction/309600/mobile-al-estate-auction-the-grand-mariner-marina/.