SEA BRIGHT: BOUNCER NOW OWNS THE JOINT

chris-woodWith a partner, Chris Wood has taken over Ichabod’s and is revamping the space as Woody’s Ocean Grille. (Photo by Dustin Racioppi; click to enlarge)

By DUSTIN RACIOPPI

It was hard for Chris Wood to imagine, some 25 years ago as a door man at Ichabod’s, that he’d return to the Sea Bright “institution,” as he calls it, for anything more than a beer and a burger.

“Absolutely not,” said 50-year-old Wood. “I always loved the building, always loved the spot. Never did I think I was going to own the place.”

Wood, who left his post at Ichabod’s door in the mid-80s to become a bond broker on Wall Street, is making an unlikely — and “super, super exciting” — return to his roots on East Church Street, taking over Ichabod’s and rebranding it Woody’s Ocean Grille.

Along with business partner Peter Forlenza, of Rumson, Wood is initiating a major overhaul to the two-story oceanside spot, placing more focus on the restaurant end of the business than the bar.

The upstairs bar will be removed, the back wall of the first-floor bar will be knocked out, the kitchen expanded and open to plain view and more windows will be added to the front of the dining room, Wood said.

“It’s the end of an era,” he said Thursday, as workers gathered and organized the bar and restaurant’s equipment, readying for a day-long auction.

In a tiny seaside town that draws big business from its bar scene in the warmer months, Woody’s, which holds Ichabod’s liquor license, will place a greater emphasis on its lunch and dinner menus.

Wood, of Fair Haven, and Forlenza have brought in chef Ed O’Keefe, a well-known name in the area, to create what Wood calls “fine casual” California coastal cuisine: fish tacos, braised short ribs, “Sea Bright” sliders and other creations.

“It’s going to be a unique menu for the area,” he said.

The drinks, of course, will flow, too, Wood said, with specialties like an Orange Crush (fresh-squeezed orange juice, orange-flavored vodka, splash of Sprite), Mojitos and Margaritas.

Work inside the space will begin right away, Wood said. He and Forlenza are shooting for an early summer opening to capture some of the borough’s heavy summer traffic.

“It’s crucial, yet we’re not going to rush it. We’re going to make sure we doing this the right way. You only get one shot,” he said. “Well, maybe two shots.”