The opening-night crowd at the Mad Hatter last Friday night. (Photo by Wil Fulton. Click to enlarge)


For those with an eye for irony, it may have seemed fitting that the reopening of the hurricane-inundated the Mad Hatter was saluted by periodic of rain showers.

A beloved shore bar and restaurant located in the heart of downtown Sea Bright, the Hatter has faced its fair share of hurdles on the journey back to life after being blown out by Hurricane Sandy. But finally, after a delayed fire permit held it one step short of the finish line on Thursday – its originally scheduled grand reopening – the Mad Hatter’s improvised Tiki Hut and back bar officially opened for the 2013 summer season Friday, just in time for Memorial Day weekend.

 While the rain came in spurts, the Hatter’s loyal customer base seemed to show up in droves.

“It’s great to be back, really amazing,” said Brett, a Sea Bright local who joined his buddies and “big-time regulars” Charlie and Kevin – each of whom declined to share their his last name – at the bar. “The only thing you can say is that being back here is awesome, I must say I did not think it would be back so soon.”

Brett’s crew was only a microcosm of the crowd that showed up Friday night, all ready and willing to show their support to a neighborhood favorite, reopened at long last.

Scott Kelly, and his wife Amy, were celebrating two momentous occasions that Friday night: the reopening of their restaurant, and their 16th wedding anniversary.

“It is our anniversary, but all the people here are our family too,” said Amy, standing in he midst of the thick crowd in the Hatter’s newly renovated back room. “Coming back here after being gone for so long, it’s really like a family reunion. Not only with the staff, but with our customers that have come back to show their support.

“I almost wanted to cry when I saw the all the staff here, ready to go back to work,” she added. “It’s very emotional. We are just extremely grateful to be back.”

The Mad Hatter’s temporary set-up includes the Tiki Bar on the main building’s back porch and a newly redesigned indoor room complete with bathroom facilities, another bar, televisions and tables. The Kellys plan to bring in food trailers to cook up Hatter staples, including chicken wings and their famous thin-crust pizza.

“We’re so happy about the opening, regardless of the weather,” said Scott. “The response has been crazy. Even with the rain, we’re here and we’re ready for the summer – ready to do it up the Jersey shore, just like we always have.”