donovan's 071015 3With new access ramps over the sea wall, the restored tiki bar at Donovan’s was back in business Friday afternoon, as co-owner Chris Bowler announced via the signboard, below. (Photos by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)


donovan's 071015 1Thirty-two months after it was knocked cold by Hurricane Sandy, a Sea Bright watering hole stirred back to life in limited form Friday afternoon.

Employees of Donovan’s Reef, which had been a magnet to Wall Street millionaires and Side Street store clerks alike, threw open a fenced gate to its beachfront tiki bar shortly before 3 p.m., marking the end of a long, frustrating struggle, its owners said.

donovan's 2 110312The main building as seen about a week after the hurricane, above. Below, an employee helps stock the tiki bar from storage trailers. (Photos by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)

donovan's 071015 2“The past two years were very stressful,” as plans to get the business reopened for the summer seasons were thwarted by red tape, co-owner Chris Bowler told redbankgreen.

“To paraphrase Chairman Mao, it was a protracted conflict,” said Bob Phillips, who shares ownership of the business with the Bowler family and the Carducci family of Holmdel. He had particular ire for the federal Housing and Urban Development agency, but high praise for Sea Bright officials, who he said fought alongside the owners to expedite the reopening.

Just minutes after having obtained its final borough permits, the burden was beginning to lift, said Bowler, as he ran from updating the Ocean Avenue sign – it now reads, “SANDY WHO? WE ARE OPEN”– to painting lane markers in the parking lot.

True to Donovan’s unpretentious atmosphere, the first drink served in the post-Sandy era was a Miller Lite, and about a dozen customers cheered as a customer drank it, said Phillips.

The partial reopening was is just a step, though, toward getting a year-round structure built on the lee side of the sea wall to replace the building destroyed by Sandy. Bowler said a key hurdle in that effort was also cleared Friday, with the receipt of a CAFRA permit from the state Department of Environmental Protection.

The partners will now have to decide how far into the post-Labor Day season to keep the tiki bar running, given that they hope to have the permanent structure opened by next spring.

Meantime, the beach bar will be open from 9 a.m. to midnight seven days a week. In the event of “complete” rain, the bar will close, but for the occasional shower, “we’ll wait it out and see if our customers do, too,” Bowler said.