By DONALD WITTKOWSKI
The newly opened Beach Bar is finally selling booze.
At a hearing that took only about five minutes to complete, City Council approved the place-to-place transfer of a liquor license that once belonged to the LaCosta Lounge, Sea Isle City’s iconic former nightclub, to the Beach Bar.
Council held a special meeting Friday morning to vote on the license transfer. A few hours later, the first drinks were being served at the Beach Bar, which has taken the place of the old LaCosta Lounge at the high-profile corner of John F. Kennedy Boulevard and Landis Avenue.
The 4-0 Council vote capped a months-long process by Sea Isle officials to work out the legal intricacies that finally allowed LaCosta’s former liquor license to be “grandfathered” in at the Beach Bar.
Unlike the lengthy and intense public debate on the legalities of the license transfer that occurred during previous Council meetings, the vote was swift and produced no comments from the audience.
“I’m very happy that it’s over. I’m very excited to open up for the rest of the summer,” said Christopher Glancey, the Sea Isle businessman and developer who owns the Beach Bar.
Glancey and his business partner Bob Morris bought the landmark LaCosta Lounge in 2018 for $7.3 million with the intention of demolishing it to make room for the development of an upscale all-suite hotel, restaurant, outdoor bar and banquet space.
They later changed their plans to undertake a rebranding of the LaCosta complex into the Beach Bar, a new bakery called the Shorebreak Cafe and the small Ludlam Hotel.
But first, City Council had to work through the legal complexities of transferring LaCosta’s former liquor license to the Beach Bar. Last month, the governing body approved a new zoning ordinance that defines when a liquor license can be grandfathered in at a bar.
Council had to hold the special meeting Friday to complete the final step of formally approving the license transfer to the Beach Bar so it could legally begin serving alcoholic beverages. Previously, the Beach Bar had operated with BYOB dining service.
The Beach Bar poked fun at the delay in getting its liquor license by posting a statement on its Facebook page that proclaimed, “Prohibition is OVER, Booze is Back!”
“We are ecstatic to announce that our liquor license is back in place where it belongs! Even though this took longer than expected, we are thankful to the City Council for doing the right thing and getting Beach Bar’s license back on-site,” the posting said.
The posting was accompanied by a good-natured photo showing the Beach Bar’s employees holding signs that said “We Have Booze,” “Cold Beer,” and “Shots! Shots! Shots!”
With the liquor license finally in place, the transition from the old LaCosta Lounge to the new Beach Bar can be completed. A fixture in Sea Isle since 1972, LaCosta established a reputation as one of the best-known bars at the Jersey Shore. The old-school nightclub hosted multiple generations of party-goers for nearly 50 years before closing down in September 2020.
Some of the old LaCosta signs remain on the property, but Glancey emphasized they are there simply for nostalgia.
“It’s going to be the Beach Bar at The Ludlam,” he said of the formal new name.
The Ludlam moniker pays tribute to Sea Isle’s early history. Sea Isle is located on Ludlam Island, which was named after Joseph Ludlam, who bought the land in the late 17th century and used it to graze cows and sheep before Sea Isle City was founded as a beach resort in 1882 by real estate developer Charles K. Landis.
Although the liquor license had been in limbo, construction has continued on a facelift for other parts of the old LaCosta site at the gateway to Sea Isle’s downtown business district.
The former Casino Pizzeria next to LaCosta Lounge has been converted into a new kitchen for indoor and outdoor dining at the Beach Bar.
In addition, LaCosta’s old liquor store has become the Shorebreak Cafe, a made-from-scratch bakery where customers are also able to grab a cup of coffee and some ice cream.
“When people see what we have done with this cafe, it will give a glimpse of what the future will look like for this corner (of town),” Glancey said.
The LaCosta’s former three-story Coast Motel has been renovated and rebranded as the 30-room Ludlam Hotel. The hotel’s interior was given a makeover. Renovations are planned for the building’s exterior over the winter to make it more attractive, Glancey said.
Longer-range plans include building a second hotel tower next to the existing one. Glancey said he will seek Sea Isle planning board approval for the project this fall and intends to build it in 2022.
The Beach Bar, meanwhile, has both indoor and outdoor facilities. The outdoor bar is located in the middle of the property, between the Shorebreak Cafe and the Ludlam Hotel.
The indoor part uses what formerly served as LaCosta’s nightclub. Glancey said the old nightclub space will be renovated and modernized to create a more inviting indoor bar.
Overall, Glancey said the property’s transformation will create full-time, year-round jobs that can be hard to find in Cape May County’s seasonal, tourism-based economy.
“It feels terrific to employ all these people and to give them meaningful jobs,” he said.