By John Burton
Longtime banquet hall back in business
ATLANTIC HIGHLANDS – There was never any question about coming back after Sandy, said Bernie and Kathleen Sweeney, who own and operate the Shore Casino, a longtime banquet hall located at the municipal harbor.
“A lot of people thought we would never be able to come back,” Kathleen said. She heard that from people who live in the borough who had the chance to see the extent of the damage.
Bernie dismissed those assertions. “The day after the flood I was down here with 14 brooms and my family, cleaning up and ripping up rugs,” Bernie said of the significant damage his restaurant and catering facility experienced with the late October storm and his work to get the operation up and running again.
The Shore Casino, 1 Simon Lake Drive, in the center of the harbor area at the end of the borough’s First Avenue, saw a large wave make its way over the bulkhead and engulf the building, bringing more than 4 feet of water through the structure, smashing all of the building’s 27 windows, all the wall mirrors, ruining much of the equipment, flooring, carpeting and electrical wiring, among other damage.
Expressing amazement, Bernie said a 44-foot powerboat washed up with the tidal surge and crashed into the building. Beer coolers, filled with beer, floated from their stationary locations behind the bars and all the chairs were in the kitchen by the time the water was done.
And a truck, which had been parked behind the building, was just gone, he said, still not sure where it wound up.
“We just couldn’t believe that a wave could do all that damage,” he said.
“All those years of work out to sea,” offered Kathleen, in her native County Kerry Irish brogue that hasn’t waned with her more than 50 years in America.
The couple has been operating the Shore Casino here for 45 years. For the past 50 years they have also owned and operated Casino in the Park, located in Jersey City, where Bernie grew up. The Jersey City location experienced some flooding from an area lake, with the basement taking on water. But the damage was pretty minimal and Casino in the Park was operating again pretty quickly.
It was not like the damage they had to address at the Shore Casino, he said. Just to replace the dance floors and carpeting cost approximately $100,000. When asked about the cost of the whole job, Bernie deflected the question, explaining, “Everything here is brand new… I’m almost afraid to try and add it all up.
“We probably had every insurance you can imagine. But,” he continued, taking a breath, “we didn’t have flood insurance.
“Nobody ever suggested flood insurance,” to him, he said. “But it was just stupidity, I guess,” not to think of it, he added.
What probably saved the building, he suspected, was that he built it with concrete and steel. “If it had been made of wood, it would’ve been gone,” he said.
Bernie shrugged. “Look I’ve been through worse,” he said. “I’ve been a paratrooper; I jumped out of planes” during the Korean War in the early 1950s, he said. “I got nothing to complain about. A lot of people had it so much worse.”
But Kathleen shot him a look. “Tell the truth,” she demanded. “You were so sad.”
“It’s a hard thing,” he conceded. “It takes a lot out of you.”
Now they’re putting on the small finishing touches before getting completely back to business in their two rooms that are capable of seating 500 and about 160, respectively. They’ve already hosted the Monmouth County Republicans’ annual Lincoln Dinner in February, a wedding on St. Patrick’s Day and some funeral repasts for families with longtime connections to the casino. For the future, they said, they will again host a number of local schools’ proms and are looking forward to the coming summer.
“It’ll just take a little bit of time, but the harbor will be beautiful again,” he said, pronouncing it “beaut-ee-ful,” leaving no doubt of his tough Jersey City roots.