New ‘It’ Spot Bird & Betty’s Comes to Life as Art, Decor Evoke Youth Culture of Yesteryear

By VICTORIA FORD | May 22, 2019
Photo by: Jack Reynolds

Beach Haven — The change in ownership of the former Ketch restaurant and nightclub on Dock Road in Beach Haven has brought with it a whole new identity as Bird & Betty’s – an aesthetic reimagining of the hippie and disco eras. Newly purchased by the Tide Table Group and renamed for Bird and Betty Clutter, who bought the building in the late ’50s and operated it until 1976 while it was called the Acme Hotel, the restaurant and entertainment venue ratchets up the food and music experiences to a level of refinement and glamor.

Think Tavern on the Green meets Studio 54, but at the beach.

But fear not – Old Acme Mondays with throwback specials and Teen Nite (now for teens only, 14 to 18, while parents enjoy a late dinner and drinks in a separate but adjoining area) live on. The first Teen Nite of the year is set for Sunday, May 26; the line forms at 9 p.m., and the DJ goes from 10 to midnight.

The Tide Table Group is comprised of the Nugent, Magaziner and Burris families, and includes Ship Bottom Shellfish; Mud City Crabhouse; Old Causeway Steak and Oyster House; Black Whale Bar and Fish House; Parker’s Garage and Oyster Saloon; and now Bird & Betty’s.

Fine artist Jessie Wolfrom, home visiting from Puerto Rico, has been handed the creative reins to bring the vintage ’60s and ’70s vision to life throughout the building.

The atmosphere of Bird & Betty’s in the days leading up to the May 18 soft opening was electric, a vibe of industrious concentration noticeable immediately upon walking in.

“It reminds me of crit week at art school,” Wolform said, a mood she finds very conducive to progress. “Everybody is doing their thing; every person here is essential.”

Operations Manager Billy Mehl (the Nugents’ son-in-law) was running around in a hard hat, overseeing rug-laying, lighting installation, soup to nuts.

“Every part of this building has been updated and changed,” he said, to achieve the goal of creating a space that suits all intents and purposes, that transitions smoothly from dining to dancing, from conversation to recreation.

“Basically, there’s a spot in the building for everybody,” he said.

The building itself dates to 1904 and measures 18,000 square feet, with a 1,200-person capacity.

As soon as the discussion about the artwork started months ago, Wolfrom said, “I was like, ‘Dude, that is right up my alley; this place is going to look like my house.’” From there it’s been a continual collaboration, with everyone throwing around cool ideas as they arise.

The whole “retro” look started with the pink velvet circular sofa co-owner Melanie Magaziner fell in love with at Tina Kerekes’ Danny Clinch Gallery in Asbury Park during the Sea.Hear.Now music festival last fall. (Kerekes used to own Home Brewed Skate Shop in Beach Haven and married Joe Bembry, the front man from Hyperactive.) The rest of the furniture was sourced from a few different vintage sellers, Flux Modern in Asbury Park, Betsu and Retrospect in Philadelphia.

The overall interior design has a certain cohesion, although nothing necessarily matches. “It doesn’t need to, because that’s how it works,” Wolfrom said.

The initial plan for Wolfrom’s part was an exterior mural, which will materialize soon – the words “Total Betty” in swoopy letters, Wolfrom explained, “like a ‘Soul Train’ font, with colorful shadow layers, maybe some metallic gold paint in there; it’s gonna be real fabulous” – but then the ideas started to flow and expand, and they haven’t stopped.

She’s done a set of fat wraparound stripes in gloriously earthy, almost-edible ’70s hues (caramel, pumpkin, chocolate), reminiscent of a roller rink, on the second-floor loft around the nightclub, and all four restrooms, a set of ladies’ and men’s upstairs and down.

Inspiration for the “flower power” theme in the upstairs women’s room came from some 1970s floral print fabric. The end result is an explosion of flowers all over the walls and stalls – “an Instagram girl’s dream,” she said, demonstrating where to stand facing the mirror to snap the perfectly composed selfie. “I thought about doing the ceiling, too, but then I was like ‘no, don’t be insane.’” Also, she didn’t want the place to feel too closed-in.

Downstairs, the ladies’ room walls are covered in painted plants in macramé hangers, all placed for photo ops with maximum share-ability.

“They want everything to be Instagram-worthy everywhere,” she said. More than merely a reflection of human life, social media has become the framework upon which people build real-life experiences.

Another good selfie spot is the giant circle where the stripes bend, behind the foosball table.

She designed the second-floor men’s room to look like the inside of a classic van, where guys can “picture” themselves behind the wheel, complete with steering wheel, gauge panel/dashboard, fuzzy dice and scented pine tree air freshener painted on the mirror over the sink. “Keep on Truckin’” is the theme.

The ground-floor men’s room, meanwhile, is totally bananas. No, really. Hugh Hefner’s image adorns the wall above the trough, with bananas checkerboarded all over the walls and the words “No Bananas Onboard” painted in huge letters – another picture-perfect spot.

She’s using oil-based Rustoleum enamel, she said, which is hard to work with, but effective and long-lasting. To understand the time-intensiveness of the job, consider the plant mural took three 12-hour days, or almost a full, but condensed, work week.

Finishing touches will continue throughout the next month or so, she said.

While in the zone, Wolfrom binges on “Radiolab” podcasts and cold brew.

“It’s coming together,” Magaziner said, not a hint of worry in her voice.

Magaziner maintains the key to success for Tide Table has been the quality of the managers in each location, along with a longtime loyal staff.

A major deck expansion is planned for next year to make the outside a “dayclub” to complement the nightclub. The patio will invite lingerers, the way Magaziner described it, with peacock chairs and wicker furnishings, bistro lights strung with care. Added delights are in such details as fancy knotted plant hangers around the ground-floor bar-lounge area, made by BROs by Britt, local fiber artisan Brittany Raimo.

Everyone is very excited about the entertainment schedule, which will bring major names to the B&B’s stage. Because LBI is in a strategic spot between Atlantic City and Asbury Park, organizers see an opportunity to bring a diverse lineup of bigger and bigger acts. This summer get ready for every genre performed by favorite local musicians and out-of-towners: Chevy Lopez, G. Love, Tunnel Vision, B Street Band, The Impulsives, Sneak Attack, the Danksters and more.

The beating heart of Chef Kyle Baddorf's kitchen strategy for B&B’s (and a unique offering among the seafood-forward Tide Table restaurants) is the custom pizza oven by Forza Forni, a thing of beauty bearing the business logo and prominently displayed in a windowed corner. During the soft opening, complimentary pizzas were being baked as fast as people could eat them – Neapolitan-style, hot and fresh, thin crust, topped with parmesan, olive oil and sea salt.

The menu also features such classics as peel-and-eat shrimp, new spins on old favorites such as Crab Louie, an “amazing chicken sandwich” according to Magaziner, and the secret Betty sauce.

The crafted cocktail menu was, of course, fun to design, she added. At the top of the list is Heart of Glass (that’s a Blondie reference, for those under 30).

Because of the long history that is meaningful to so many people, the new caretakers feel a lot of pressure to make sure things are done right, Mehl said – no radical changes, just improvements.

In talking to people about the project, Mehl said, “I probably heard 20 times, ‘I met my husband at Teen Nite.’ Every single person who came to do work on this building had a story. It’s a part of everybody’s LBI experience.”

“It’s an iconic building,” Magaziner said. “For us to have it is an honor.”

— Victoria Ford

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