By KATIE BRUNO
The sun is going down, the band is starting, drinks are pouring, and crowds are piling in. This is a typical summer Sunday at Donovan’s Reef in Sea Bright, New Jersey. Donovan’s is the only beach bar in all of Monmouth County, and one of the only bars located on the actual beach in all of the Jersey Shore.
View To Donovan’s Reef in Sea Bright, NJ in a larger map
“It’s been in business for 37 years and is probably the most popular bar in this area, and the only one on the beach in New Jersey that you can legally drink at,” said Donovan’s manager Susie Markos. “Its kind of a special place.”
On October 29th 2012, the Jersey Shore nearly crumbled when Hurricane Sandy, the largest Atlantic Hurricane on record in history, barreled into the Garden State.
Sandy left more than 3 million people in New Jersey without power for weeks, demolished homes and businesses, including some of the most legendary shore landmarks; one of them being Donovan’s Reef.
“The wreckage of Donovan’s became an iconic symbol of the damage that Sandy brought to Sea Bright. It was painful to see one of our beloved local landmarks in ruins,” said Sea Bright Mayor Dina Long.
Locals who spent majority of their summer days and nights at Donovan’s, were truly heartbroken when they saw the initial images of how bad the bar was destroyed.
“I was really upset to see it destroyed,” said Ramapo student and Monmouth County resident Kristie Walton. “It is sad to see such a fun, homely place gone.”
When the staff of Donovan’s heard of the hurricane approaching, they did what they could to try and survive it. Unfortunately, Sandy was too powerful to keep all of Donovan’s standing.
“The main building was demolished. We had boarded up all the windows but that clearly didn’t do a hell of a lot,” explains Markos. “We knew that it would be bad. We hoped that it wouldn’t be this bad.”
Although the initial damage was brutal, less than two months later, Donovan’s has been able to clear all the wood and debris and are starting up the rebuilding process.
As of right now, the lot where the main buildings of Donovan’s Reef once stood is just leveled out dirt, but that is a positive thing for the bar.
“We started the demo [this week] which is great, because it means we will be rebuilding faster,” said Markos.
Because the bar has been around so long, there was a good chance that the owners could have chose to not rebuild in the chance of another major storm like Sandy.
Mayor Long expressed her concern for all businesses in Sea Bright who are rebuilding.
“It’s a primary concern of mine,” Long said. “While I want to see everyone reopen and rebuild quickly, but we have to make sure it’s done sustainably.”
Long shared an interesting fact, on how big of an impact Donovan’s has had on the Sea Bright community, even after it has been destroyed.
“Ironically, it was a broken piece of Donovan’s sign that became a symbol for the entire community,” explained Long. “All that remained of the sign was the first two letters, DO. Now it’s our mantra for recovery and rebuilding.”
There were some newer businesses in Sea Bright that withstood the storm due to strong building codes. Unfortunately because of Donovan’s long existence, they did not have the same codes. Mayor Long explained how the hurricane proofing that has been done in Florida is an example of what she hopes businesses in Sea Bright can achieve.
“The challenge will be to help our people find the funding to meet the stricter codes,” said Long.
Even though the obstacles will be tough, Markos assures locals that Donovan’s Reef will be rebuilt.
“We absolutely will be rebuilding. The architectural plans are being drawn up right now,” Markos said. “The owners are 100% behind it, which I couldn’t be more grateful for.”
Sea Bright and the Community
Hurricane Sandy destroyed almost all of the homes and businesses in Sea Bright, leaving locals no other choice but to evacuate their beloved hometown for the time being. Markos is not only the manager at one of Sea Bright’s most popular bars, but she is also a resident.
“I really miss that I could walk down the street and know every other person and be friendly with everybody,” Markos said. “I can’t believe how much I miss my community.”
With all of the devastation that happened to Sea Bright, Markos truly believes that everyone will return in one way or another.
“We know we’re all going to get back into town, almost all of us are coming back, but we also know its never going to be the same,” Markos said. “It will still be great but it’s going to be different and that’s something I think that everybody in town is trying to come to grips with.”
Mayor Long explains the hardships that residents will face as they try to rebuild their homes.
“As residents begin to rebuild, they will need able hands and building supplies,
moral support and money,” Long said.
To make sure the close-knit community of Sea Bright does not lose touch, a Facebook group called “Displaced Sea Bright Drinking Club” was created for the residents to all stay in contact and meet up.
“We can all go to happy hour together and stuff like that,” Markos said.
Rebuilding Donovan’s Reef
Because of their preparation for Sandy, Donovan’s Reef was able to save some of their possessions, leaving them better off than some other businesses.
“We did take some stuff off the beach so we’re not starting with nothing, which is great,” Markos said. One of the items removed was the legendary tiki bar, that stood right on the actual beach.
“Our tiki bar was actually saved,” Markos said. “Unfortunately what saved it was the main building collapsing, protecting it from the storm surge.”
Although the owners of the bar are not “young men” they are committed to their community and their fans, and plan to have a bar up by next summer.
“I think its very brave,” Markos said. “It would be very easy for them to cut and run, and take the money and run, and who could blame them.”
Standing behind the owners’ decision, Markos is optimistic for another successful summer.
“In one form or another, whether we have the main building complete or not, we do have that tiki bar and we will have something up there by summer 2013. “
Damages to the Shore
Hurricane Sandy cost the state of New Jersey over $30 billion in damages. Sea Bright was one of the many towns in New Jersey who were affected by the storm. While businesses like Donovan’s have plans to rebuild, locals are still saddened by the loss of the bar and remember all of the great times they had there.
“When I heard that it was destroyed, I was very sad,” said Ramapo student and Monmouth County resident Jennifer Davis. “But, I thought that we need to rebuild it and have those great memories come back.”
“Donovan’s was more than a bar,” said local Caitlin Downie. “Donovan’s is the entity of the Jersey Shore. It is a home to countless people and generations that have shared the same love for the shore. I think that Donavan’s was a symbol of Sea Bright and that everyone should work together to bring it back.”
With the positive attitude the Donovan’s staff has, it seems secure that there will be a place for locals and tourists to go next summer.
“All you can do is keep moving forward, so that’s where were at right now,” said Markos.
Mayor Long also was a lover of Donovan’s, and has high hopes that the bar will rebuild and be ready for the season.
“I look forward to it,” Long said. “Even if it’s open air the first year!”
Donovan’s manager Susie Markos explains, preparation, destruction and rebuilding for Donovan’s Reef
Markos explains Hurricane Sandy’s effect on Sea Bright as a community