RED BANK: CHAR TO OPEN THIS MONTH

A view from Char’s second-floor dining room of the new two-story windows overlooking Broad Street. Below, the restaurant features a waveform awning with heating elements underneath for outdoor dining in cool weather. (Click to enlarge)

By JOHN T. WARD

After an extensive overhaul of a 19th-century Red Bank building, Char Steakhouse plans to open in the former Ashes Cigar Bar space on Broad Street  later this month, redbankgreen has learned.

The widely anticipated debut marks the end of a two-and-a-half-year vacancy in a prominent building as the downtown has struggled to recover from the recession that began in 2007.

It also caps what is believed to have been one of the largest investments in a downtown restaurant in years.

Restaurant designer and marketing consultant Jeff Cahill of Tinton Falls said Char will open to friends, family and dignitaries on Saturday and Sunday, February 23 and 24, and to the public on Wednesday, February 27.

Char owner Matteo Ingrao told redbankgreen earlier this month that he has been training new staff at his other restaurant, also called Char Steakhouse, in Raritan Township in Somerset County. He said he plans a relatively low-key start to work out any kinks that might arise.

“I’d rather do a little less business and make sure everybody’s happy” than make a messy splash, he said.

Char replaces a restaurant and nightclub that collapsed in a welter of fire-code violations, unpaid vendor bills and rumors of rampant illegal drug use in its final months. Under a court order, the business was seized by a receiver in July, 2010 and liquidated.

Town officials, including Mayor Pasquale Menna, whose mother once worked as a seamstress in the building, have been eager proponents of Ingrao’s plan for an elegant eatery anchored by a menu of beef. They welcomed Cahill’s designs, calling for a distinctive, 21st-century awning, when they were presented to the planning board a year ago. Just last month, the borough council expanded an existing private valet-parking program to utilize three spaces outside Char for customer .

The original three-story structure, at the corner of Broad and Mechanic streets, is about 140 years old. A two-story addition, built in the 1960s, features two full-height windows and houses the restaurant’s bar.

With 7,200 square feet of space inside, Char features seating for 206 customers on two floors, said Cahill, of Cahill Studio in Tinton Falls.

Ingrao declined comment on rumors that he spent $2 million on renovations to the building, which is owned by Jack’s Music Shoppe owner Jack Anderson.

Ingrao also spent $385,000 on a liquor license that Anderson had obtained from the now-defunct Little Kraut/Red Bank Beer Garden, according to borough records.