All of this is nice for the consumer, who is able to have sushi, fresh pasta, meat, and satay dishes, sometimes all at the same restaurant. But where does that leave the older bar that has an established reputation? Some owners try to keep up with trends and revamp the menus or undergo renovations to resemble their slicker, newer cousins. But a few are resisting the urge and are instead trying to do things a little differently.
Bahama Mama's on Washington Street in Hoboken is one of those places. The club used to be known for its straw hats, pictures of customers tacked on the door, and bachelorette parties for girls who were mostly from out of town. Those who haven't been in for the grand re-opening might be shocked to see that the colorful lights, beer posters and plastic cups have all been replaced.
It is still a beach bar, but one you would see in a resort area. In a town that is known for its dark pubs and dim lighting in the lounges, it is a surprise to see so much color. With the bright blue ceiling, red walls, and blown up photograph of a beach scene on the back wall, you almost wish they played sounds of crashing waves. The retro blue lights that hang over the bar illuminate the lacquered black top. To keep with the beach club feel, they put pictures of old surf movies in bamboo frames around the bar. At night they play surf movies that you can watch on one of three plasma televisions.
David Jacey, the owner of Bahama Mama's, said he wanted to attract more local residents. "I liked the theme, but I wanted to take it from the 19th to the 21st century," Jacey said. "I wanted to offer an alternative to the higher-end lounge, a place where you can relax and enjoy yourself."
For the summer, Jacey plans on giving away beach chairs and bikes, in addition to offering frozen drinks to residents who might not want to go to the beach every weekend. Bartender and former Hoboken resident Kelly Bronowich witnessed the transformation of the bar. She said that the first thing customers usually say is how much better the place looks. According to Bronowich, the floor used to be covered with sawdust and pieces of toilet paper that were sprayed nightly at the crowd.
"People are happy to see it go," Bronowich said. "The crowd is still a fun, party crowd, but more mature." New customer Jim Occipinti said that he likes the new atmosphere. "I come in for the bartenders," he said. "Not only are they hot, they are phenomenal. It's like Cheers, they remember you." "Plus they have the photo booth in the back," added Hoboken resident Nando Difino. Occhipinti said he used to go to the beach every summer, but he feels he has grown out of it. "You can get just as festive here," he said.
Alan Fox, general manager of The Cage in Hoboken, helped change the bar from a biker bar to a gay bar. "There wasn't a gay bar in Hudson County or Hoboken," Fox said. "There was a demographic that wasn't being addressed."
The décor is deceptively simple. The floor is the original tile from the days when it was the Cadillac Bar, and the square wooden bar hasn't changed. Fox wanted to add a "queer touch to a straight bar." The light green hanging lights and the couches on one side of the bar are new touches.
On busy nights, the room is split into two different atmospheres with help from the wall that goes down the middle of the bar. There is the upbeat dance side with the raised platform dance cage, and the more relaxed area with couches and purple lights on the walls. The biggest addition is the rainbow flag that hangs outside. But even with the flag, Fox said, "We are not exclusively gay. We welcome everyone. There is no prejudice."
"I came here when it first opened," said Frank Limoncello, a stylist from Shear Madness in Hoboken. "Within a week, I was friendly with the staff. I always felt welcomed back. It is an amazing group of people." "There are people who come in every night," said Fox, who is on a first-name basis with most of the regulars. According to Fox, the regulars come not only from Hudson County, but from Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx. Fox said the bar has gained so much popularity that Gerrino Restaurant, on River Street, made Wednesday night gay night. This didn't lessen the crowd at The Cage, but added to it as it gave customers a chance to bar hop.
Café Elysian in Hoboken has a new look. Gone is the mural behind the bar and the dark-wood dinner area in the back. The back room is opened up with white walls and light from the windows. From the outside, the place looks like a French bistro, with tile tables and a flower-lined fence.
The Iron Monkey in Jersey City has changed its atmosphere several times. According to John, a manager at the Iron Monkey, it has changed from fine dining, to a hipper eatery with an art gallery, to a lounge atmosphere with an emphasis on food. The rooftop terrace and bar area is larger now and offers views of downtown Jersey City.
Steven McIntyre, owner of the Iron Monkey, said he likes to keep ahead of trends. "We basically keep reinventing ourselves," said McIntyre. Whether it is the food, the live jazz music, or the rooftop bar that attracts customers, the Iron Monkey, open since 1996, has stood the test of time.
"People are staying in Jersey City," McIntyre said. Not every place succeeds in changing their formula. Some places don't even last the first year. The bars that do outlast the others usually maintain their success by staying one step ahead.