Never mind that ‘farewell forever’ send-off held last year at Donovan’s Reef. The legendary Sea Bright landmark is sticking around and kicking up sand a bit longer.


Today’s lackluster real estate market has benefited regulars of the combined bar and beach club. They had all but said their final, sloppy goodbyes to the Ocean Avenue entertainment spot last autumn.

But a presumed buyer backed out of a deal in February, and no others came forward to match the reported $5 million that Bob Philips and his two partners were said to be asking.

Then Philips, who’s 71 years old and has been a co-owner for more than 30 years, realized he wasn’t ready to let go, anyway. His desire to continue working at the Jersey Shore-themed establishment, he says, led him to decide to keep Donovan’s going year-round at least through the summer of 2009.

If nothing else, Phillips says, he wants Donovan’s to provide a place for patrons from a wide range of backgrounds to come together, despite soaring gas and food prices and an overall sour economy.

“People always get a few bucks so they can go out,” Phillips said in a telephone interview. “We’re Americans. It’s what we’re about.”

Donovans’ extended stay also amounts to a bit of job security for the 45 employees, including bartenders, cooks, clerical staff, lifeguards, and security officers working for Phillips and the other two owners, Chris Bowler and Robert Carducci.

One of those employees is Sea Bright Councilwoman Susana Markson, a Donovan’s manager who expressed optimism about the 2008 beach season.

“This is going to be our best summer ever,” said Markson, who only needs to walk across a side street to get from work to Sea Bright’s borough hall.

Borough officials, attracted by both the beachfront location and ample parking lot, had considered purchasing Donovan’s as part of an overall, evolving town revitalization plan. But like others, they passed when they learned what the sellers wanted, according to Phillips.

A few developers seeking to acquire beachfront property for building experienced sticker shock when Phillips and his co-owners told them their asking price.

Anyone looking for a property like Donovan’s would have to go south to Ocean County to find a combination nightclub and beach club, Phillips explained. “We’re the only beach club in Monmouth County that owns its own private beach,” he said.

But with that pitch falling on deaf ears for now, Phillips believes he can overcome the gloom and doom brought on by rising gas prices by marketing Donovan’s to potential visitors in areas not far away, such as Middlesex County and Staten Island.

Though it came on the heels of a May 12 northeaster that washed away some of the sand in front of his building, the all-important Memorial Day weekend brought in crowds. Mother Nature always has a way of returning the sand, he added.

“The beach will be back,” Phillips said. “We had a very nice weekend.”

Several weddings, parties, and other catered affairs are already booked for the summer in a place where customers from a range of professions and educational levels mix and mingle — college professors and FBI
agents , bridge inspectors and mechanics.

This summer’s entertainment lineup includes music by a disc jockey on Friday nights and bands on weekends,
Phillips said. Visitors can play volleyball on the beach on weekends, he added.

The atmosphere inside Donovan’s remains casual and light lunches and dinners are available. Hours of
operation this summer are 8a to 2a daily.

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