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Design and innovation save San Diego seaside landmark destination

The Morton family opened the first Brigantine restaurant on Shelter Island, San Diego, in 1969. Built with a vision that embraced the beach town lifestyle, The Brigantine Restaurants became a local staple for fresh seafood, steaks and chops, friendly and knowledgeable service, and warm, inviting facilities. With 12 restaurants, a craft beer brewery and one Portside Coffee & Gelato location, the Mortons’ latest venture would perhaps be the most ambitious yet. With the goal to create a landmark destination on downtown San Diego’s bayfront, Portside Pier would be a $25 million, 43,000-sq.ft. (3,995 m2) project, becoming an iconic location in the forefront of the San Diego skyline. Including the restoration of the docks below, the two-story dining complex would encompass multiple restaurant choices built over the water atop a platform supported by four dozen pilings.

The complex design of Portside Pier called for the use of many unique tiles that all needed to be completely level with one another, therefore every floor tile was installed over a thin-set adhesive.

Pacific Building Group was hired to build out the intricate structure while Tucker Sadler Architects designed it to pay tribute to San Diego’s rich history as a fishing port and the different cultures that formed the city’s waterfront. This theme would be seen throughout the building, which would feature a fishing net-style steel roof with a curved barrel-shaped cover, two stick-framed glass structures resembling fishing baskets measuring more than 25’ tall (7.6 m) and a massive 3,000-lb. (1,361 kg) wall-mounted octopus sculpture. In addition, an abundance of glass and open deck space would give diners a continuous waterfront experience with expansive views overlooking the bay.

Approximately 90% of the entire floor of the project had to be tiled, so the team tapped local flooring experts at Howard’s Rug Co. who specialize in a broad range of floor coverings. Knowing they would need best-in-class setting materials and waterproofing products that could withstand the harsh conditions of saltwater sea air, the team selected LATICRETE as their chosen manufacturer.

A fishing net-style steel roof was part of the design that paid tribute to the city’s rich history as a fishing port.

“I use LATICRETE® products on 100% of my projects because of their reliability and variety of installation solutions for essentially any type of tile application. Their support team is readily available to help with compatibility assistance and their products enable us to offer a crucial 25-year warranty, which offers the owners peace of mind that they are receiving the lasting performance they expect,” said David Hunter of Howard’s Rug Co.’s Ceramic Tile & Stone division.

The challenges

Portside Pier, part of the downtown San Diego skyline, required impeccable quality and architectural sophistication with beautiful materials that allow for high traffic movement and contribute to the operational flow of the business.

Difficult environmental conditions – With the project situated on a pier and 100% over water, the iconic seafront location couldn’t be in a more demanding area. It would need building products that can withstand the harshest conditions while offering easy maintenance.

Constrained work space – With the majority of the entire floor requiring tile, access issues for the other trades and a more complicated installation process would be expected. In addition, with various elevation changes and curves in the design, installers would have to provide a flawless transition among the numerous tile types without impeding the work of other professionals.

HYDRO BAN® was first applied to protect the substrate from the ubiquitous moisture in the surrounding environment.

High-profile design – Portside Pier would be on the forefront of the downtown San Diego skyline and would require impeccable quality and architectural sophistication with materials that are aesthetically beautiful, allow for high traffic movement and contribute to the operational flow of the business.

A LATICRETE solution

The complex design of Portside Pier called for the use of many unique tiles that all needed to be completely level with one another, therefore every floor tile was installed over a thin-set adhesive. To provide durability and weather resistance against the penetrating conditions of the saltwater sea air and the heavy foot traffic of staff and diners, a quality waterproofing membrane and premium epoxy grout were needed to protect the floor for many years.

“From the nuts and bolts side of things, for a quality build, we rely heavily on skilled craftsmanship using the highest performance materials,” said Matt Morton, Director of Development for Brigantine Restaurants. “We know we can’t cut corners for cheaper products because you will pay in the long run, which is why we try to build our projects as bulletproof as possible.” 

For its ability to bond directly to a wide variety of substrates, coupled with its rapid-drying superior waterproofing capabilities, HYDRO BAN® was first applied to protect the substrate from the ubiquitous moisture in the surrounding environment. HYDRO BAN is UL GREENGUARD Gold certified for low chemical emissions. It is a thin, load-bearing waterproofing and crack-isolation membrane that is unique in that it does not require the use of fabric in the field, coves or corners. As a single-component, self-curing liquid rubber polymer, the product forms a flexible, seamless waterproofing membrane. Furthermore, it is equipped with Microban® antimicrobial product protection to fight the growth of stain-causing mold and mildew, which is especially valuable in the damp setting of a seaside restaurant.

Situated on a pier and 100% over water, the project needed building products that can withstand the harshest conditions while offering easy maintenance.

For a quality adhesive mortar that can stand up to the challenging conditions of the pier, 253 Gold was used for both interior and exterior tile installation. As a high-quality, polymer-fortified bagged cementitious thin-set powder, 253 Gold was mixed with water to install using the thin-set method. Additionally, the product has achieved UL GREENGUARD Gold certification. Tile ceilings within the building likewise were installed utilizing 254 Platinum, an ultimate one-step, polymer-fortified, thin-set mortar for interior and exterior installations. Providing optimum adhesion for porcelain and glass tiles, 254 Platinum offers incredible bond strength and a long open time in a smooth, creamy formula and is UL GREENGUARD Gold certified.

To provide lasting, high-performance epoxy quality, SPECTRALOCK® PRO Premium Grout was selected for all floor tile inside the building in all common areas and outside the building. The UL GREENGUARD Gold-certified, easy-to-use, non-sag formula also features built-in Microban antimicrobial product protection. Thanks to excellent color uniformity, stain protection and beautiful, full grout joints, SPECTRALOCK PRO Premium Grout enabled the seamless transition from one tile type to the next and ensures a long-lasting result that will captivate restaurant-goers for years to come.

Portside perfection

With the majority of the entire floor requiring tile, access issues for the other trades and a more complicated installation process would be expected.

After five years in the making, Portside Pier opened in July 2020 and offers a variety of dining options at different price points to please everyone’s palate. Guests can enjoy fresh seafood at Brigantine on the Bay, authentic Mexican flavors at Miguel’s Cocina, pub fare at Ketch Grill & Taps and walk-up service at Portside Coffee & Gelato. Portside Pier holds 1,000 seats across its eateries and public areas, with more than half of those being various outdoor seating patios and lounges. Additionally, the public can enjoy panoramic views of San Diego Bay with free access to a second-level perimeter walkway and a viewing deck that has tables and seating for up to 108 visitors. There is also a dock-and-dine to accommodate up to four vessels.

“We are thrilled with the outcome of Portside Pier! It’s a very complex building with many aspects that made it a challenge, but how it turned out makes it all worth it. It has proven to be one of the most popular and busiest restaurant destinations in California,” added Morton.

Since the opening of Portside Pier, it has been praised for its architectural beauty, noteworthy views, delicious food, public access along the iconic Embarcadero and, most importantly, for helping spark the city’s economic recovery amid the 2020 global pandemic. The Brigantine’s Portside Pier is located at 1360 North Harbor Drive overlooking San Diego Bay.  

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