Tuesday, January 30, 2024

Saddle Up: Wildwood’s first "honky tonk," country-themed bar coming to the Boardwalk Mall

, Wildwood!

What is believed to be the island’s first fully-themed "honky tonk," country bar is coming to the Boardwalk Mall as a major component of the property’s revamp.

The as-yet-unnamed concept will take shape on the building’s ground floor, with main entrance and large roll-up windows facing Ocean Avenue. It will share space with new arcade fixtures and Splash House, an interactive painting attraction.

The bar will technically operate as an extension of Captn’ Jack’s Island Grill, and thus will not require an additional liquor license. Current plans project a mid-May grand opening.

“The popularity of country music and its presence in Wildwood has taken on a life of its own, and we want to grow with it,” explained co-owner Sean Dougherty, who, along with brother E.J. Dougherty and Patrick Rosenello, acquired the mall and promised big changes last year.

“Obviously, the success of the Barefoot Country Music Fest has taken things to another level. You hear country music and there are even local country performers in so many of the area bars, but there are no dedicated country bars. In fact, we own [Nucky’s Kitchen & Speakeasy] in Ventnor, and from here up to Atlantic City, I don’t know of one country bar.”

Now entering its fourth year, the Barefoot Country Music Fest (BCMF) has been a game changer for the Wildwoods. The promoters of the four-day event, billed as the largest outdoor country music festival in the Northeast, have presented scores of big-name talent, drawing massive attendance numbers while cultivating relationships with businesses and organizations throughout the island.

“It’s become a fixture, not just as a major event but with their involvement in the community,” said Dougherty. “For us, we’re kind of in the center of it all with the [Boardwalk Mall’s] location, so it just makes sense to build off of it.”

The BCMF debuted in 2021, the summer after Dougherty and his partners brought Captn’ Jack’s to the Boardwalk Mall, initiating a rebirth of the struggling institution. The bar/restaurant’s second floor balcony opens up to sweeping views of the Boardwalk and beach, including a panoramic view of the festival, as both are situated between Morey’s Piers’ Mariner’s and Adventure amusement piers.

“We are always at capacity during the festival, with Captn’ Jack’s basically becoming a country bar during that time. With this honky tonk-style concept, we can fill a demand, basically keep the party going all summer long. We want to focus on live entertainment and keeping a fun, lively atmosphere with something that hasn’t really been done here.

“There are still some aspects we’re tweaking, we haven’t fully settled on a name. Instead of using ‘Saloon’ (as seen in the rendering above), we’re considering Honky Tonk Beach. That isn’t 100 percent set in stone. We talked about a mechanical bull, but we’re not going to do that in this phase. If the bar gets some legs and grows, we can add on to it.”

Dougherty described the ground floor, which formerly housed the Boardwalk Mall Arcade, as a “large, pretty wide open space with potential for future growth.” He explained that the new arcade units will not have a specifically dedicated area, but will be tied in with the bar. “It’ll be a free-flowing setup, with many of the same games we have [at the Cape Square Entertainment Complex] out in Rio Grande.”

According to Dougherty, the lower level is still in the “demo phase,” as the clearing out of the former arcade area continues. Once finished, work will begin on the build out of the new bar. Splash House is expected to begin its construction “within the next month or so.”

Back in early November, the Boardwalk Mall’s north-facing (Garfield Ave) and west-facing (Ocean Avenue) exterior walls were painted a deep blue shade, a stark contrast to the formerly beige base. While this sparked a good deal of social media chatter, the change was merely made in preparation for new exterior designs/signage and functionality to accompany the upcoming additions.

The rest of the Boardwalk Mall will continue to operate as in previous years, with “improvements” made where possible. Captn’ Jack’s anchors the front (Boardwalk side) of the property along with the Chillin Pineapple and Playa Bowls; the second floor will feature a variety of returning and new shops/attractions including Old Time Photo, East Side Surf Shop and Kanna Cafe.

The front of the mall will open in the spring, after work on the current phase of the Boardwalk Reconstruction Project is completed.

“Behind” the mall, diagonally across the intersection at Ocean & Garfield, the 60+ year-old Ocean Sands Motel was recently demolished to make way for The Point, an outdoor tiki bar concept that was approved last year.

“I’m not exactly sure where they’re at with that project and whether or not it will be ready for Memorial Day Weekend, but when you look at what they have planned and what we’re doing at the Boardwalk Mall, it’s a very exciting time for this particular area,” said Dougherty.

“We could be looking at the makings of a real entertainment zone, maybe an area for bar hopping from our honky tonk to their tiki bar. Again, it's all different and fresh. There’s so much potential here to be unlocked.”

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