Barnegat Light — After a long winter’s renovation, Kubel’s in Barnegat Light reopened to a full house without missing a beat. Patrons of the north end landmark cheered the fact that the neighborhood feel of the 1920s-vintage bar stayed preserved even through the shine of completely new woodwork.
On May 1 at 4 p.m., contractors put down their hammer and picked up a beer. It was time to open the doors to a new season for the tavern and restaurant, even as finishing touches would continue.
Repairs had been done to flooring that stood up to a century of celebration and of slaking a thirst with friends, and that was also a good time to polish up the framework for the whole bar area.
“After 90-plus years of serving the Barnegat Light community, our building needed help to continue into the next century,” said owner Ken Egan and family with the Kubel’s crew in a summary for The SandPaper on opening day.
“Necessary repairs included major structural re-support using modern engineering methods and materials. Along the way this effort offered an opportunity to upgrade electric, plumbing, trash recycling, equipment and flooring.”
Before the undertaking started in January, many patrons put in a request that the commercial fishing memorabilia and the easy feeling stay the same. Egan had assured patrons that they would keep Kubel’s as much the way it was as possible. People during opening week were not disappointed.
“Awesome new bar, bright & cheery. Yes, popcorn,” one customer answered to another Facebook commenter who had begged on the Kubel’s BL page, “please tell me you still have popcorn.”
“Cozy, warm and very comfortable,” wrote another.
“Our feedback so far has been very positive,” said Michele Egan, Ken’s daughter. “People like our new changes, but it’s still old in a way.”
Anyone who was looking for ambience staples such as the shark jaws are not out of luck. They will be reinstalled, but against a bar wall instead of as a room divider inside the door. A frosted glass panel at their old spot was one detail that was yet to be done by opening day.
“We saved all the old memorabilia from the bar and will be displaying it as wall space allows,” said the opening-day statement from the Egan family. “We even re-purposed support beams from beneath the bar.”
Michelle Egan pointed out a photo gallery addition to the porch-side dining room. “In our back room over here we have all of the fleets; we ran around to museums and docks and everything to get them.”
The owners added that the Barnegat Light Museum and the Maritime Museum of New Jersey along with local residents provided historical photos of old Barnegat Light “and the fishing heritage that is still the foundation of today’s local DNA.”
Built upon a relationship with the Scandanavian fishing community and charter fishermen in the early days, and Coast Guardsmen joined by vacationers, Kubel’s today has also been adopted by owners of the newest shore homes. (The complete history of the establishment is on the website at kubelsbarnegatlight.com.)
Leonia native Anthony Bourdain picked Kubel’s as one of five “local” establishments in his home state to be featured on a “Parts Unknown” episode for the CNN network in 2015. In the dead of winter, he sat at a booth with his brother, reminiscing about old LBI visits while slurping succulent clams in drawn butter.
“I remember this place with nothing but fondness,” he had said. “I mean, I can’t remember a single bad memory here.”
For that episode, Kubel’s joined Hiram’s of Fort Lee, Frank’s Deli of Asbury Park, Donkey’s Place in Camden, and Dock’s Oyster House in Atlantic City.
The layout of the restaurant section is the same after the renovation, and favorites from both sea and land are still on the menu.
Lasting four months, the 2019 Kubel’s renovation project was led by Jerry Purks Construction, Betrix Electric, Steve Reider Plumbing, Fennell Equipment, Techno Sound & Video, Dave Ramsey Design, Pat France Marine Services, and the Kubel’s staff.
“We thank you all again for your support and compassion for our Barnegat Light home,” said the Egans and staff.
— Maria Scandale