Among the most ambitious projects ever proposed in Seaside Heights, the Ocean Club complex at the southern end of the town lane was born from the wreckage of Superstorm Sandy, with its owners—a group of Shore locals—who seized a chance in town to develop a former beach bar pier. and beyond.
The Ocean Club is much more than the bar it replaced. Expanded over several blocks, with about a dozen shops and restaurants located in stalls on the adjacent boardwalk, the complex consists of a modern and luxurious outdoor bar and restaurant open to the public, a beach area that welcomes visitors daily and seasonal, cabins that can be rented for the summer and a banquet facility overlooking the Atlantic .
“We are all local men,” Michael Mabe, a director at the Ocean Club, said of he and his fellow entrepreneurs. “We grew up in the area – my grandfather came here in the mid-30s. We always came to Seaside Heights as kids, and it was great, but then we saw things go the wrong way. Nobody really liked seeing what was happening, and we saw an opportunity with this piece of property And we thought we could do something special on her.”
In fact, the Ocean Club complex was one of the town’s first major redevelopment efforts, and it has proven to be a long way from the past. Since construction began, many other businesses have begun to improve their aesthetics and developers are bringing to the community an influx of high-value, mixed-use, modern properties that will soon spread to the Boulevard commercial district. Both business leaders and officials agree that much of the development is the product of a conscious shift by the town to discourage the parties shown in the city’s MTV series years and encourage family-friendly and upscale development in line with the successes of other resort communities.
“We just took the rough ground and came up with some ideas of what we should do with it, but it wasn’t just something to stumble upon,” Mabe said. “We had a lot of admiring the city and seeing what it could be again. We thought maybe we could help be catalysts. We went back and forth with the architects and engineers, and what you see today is something that took five years to make.”
Some questioned the scale of the Ocean Club complex when it was first proposed, and worried that it could become another costly project in the Shore nightlife world that has left empty buildings and reputation issues in its wake. But the Ocean Club property bought into the vision officials dreamed of, the end result was a premium oceanfront bar and restaurant, a beach with family-friendly activities, and a world-class cabana facility with a pool and concierge services. A plan to build a concert venue in the southern part of the site is no longer under development.
“Right now, it’s been rolled out,” Mabe said of the concert precinct. “There is no development in that. It could have been on a parcel farther south, but as of now it is not moving forward.”
The Ocean Club employees have marketed their business in accordance with the trends of the times. A sign outside the facility, facing the boardwalk, announces to passersby that one can “work from a cabana this summer!” As of last month, 90 percent of the units are leased for the upcoming season, and there are currently only a few left. Units in certain sizes have already been sold and a waiting list has been created.
“The pool is ready, the cabanas are ready, and the demand has been tremendous,” Mabe said at the restaurant, having just rented a unit before speaking to Shorebeat.
Daily operations at the Ocean Club will remind us of traditional Shore life in the summer, as the bar features an oceanfront happy hour every day from 4-7 p.m. on the deck, specials like Taco Tuesdays, Sunday Brunch, and other promotions. After that there will be light entertainment, clam baking, movies on the beach and other activities. Beachgoers can order food and beverage service from the restaurant while relaxing on the sand – and those who rent cabanas have access to room service every day.
“We’re going to be doing a lot of things this summer that are family-friendly and kid-oriented,” Mabe said. “Mom and Dad can relax and have a drink and the kids will have something safe and fun. We are looking forward to making movies on the beach for the kids, several country-themed events like line dancing on the deck, and some soundtrack.”
Local surfer Sam Hammer, of Lavallette, will host a surf camp on the beach during the season.
The Ocean Club Restaurant is a sprawling facility with stunning architecture and décor, including a customer favorite “Down the Shore, all is well” mural adorning the south wall. The bar and dining room open onto a spacious deck on the pier overlooking the ocean. Upstairs, a ballroom—essentially, the only oceanfront party facility in the local area—will open this season to serve parties of around 150 guests.
“The second floor banquet is supposed to be organized very soon,” Mabe said. “We’re waiting for some final touches for the lifts and a couple of other things, but we’ll be ready to go. Weddings, family events, corporate events – anything you can imagine.”
Three levels of cabanas are offered for seasonal rentals ranging from $10,000 to $27,500 per year. Cabins come in various sizes and amenities, including pool and beach access, Wi-Fi, electrical connections, and a daybed in smaller units, and additional features such as private balconies, indoor dining areas, kitchen appliances, flat screen displays and storage space in larger units.
As the Ocean Club prepares for its first full season running the restaurant, beach, and cabanas, the location is still growing in its own right. The northernmost pier will eventually host a casual eatery with boardwalk fare and no alcohol, while Mabie Group—the collective name of parent company Ocean Club—has leased space on the boardwalk for a range of restaurants and specialty stores. This season, visitors will be able to stop in at bistros specializing in Spanish tapas, gourmet macaroni and cheese, fresh French fries, Anthony’s Italian deli, Southern Barbecue and Hawaiian-style Big Kahuna.
With an initial run of success attracting a cadre of loyal local patrons to the restaurant during the winter and spring, as well as renting out nearly all of the cabana’s stock to seasonal visitors, the Ocean Club is poised to become an example of a successful boardwalk redevelopment of the city’s new image.
“We see what’s going on in the city and they’re doing some great things,” Mabe said. “They welcome people into the city and make everything positive. There are a lot of developments coming here, and it is an exciting period.”