Mule Barn Tavern — New Sandy Hook Rations
Any reason to visit Sandy Hook is a worthwhile one. Now it’s even better. One of the peninsula’s most historic and coolest buildings has been reborn as a spot to eat and drink. The “Mule Barn Tavern” is now in operation after a daring and determined rehabilitation effort.
Tavern owner Dan Ferrise — a Monmouth Beach resident — has done an outstanding job in pulling it all together. Ferrise has committed over three years of his life to the development of his restaurant — right in the middle of a National Park. Rather than sit and watch as 125 years of Jersey Shore history crumbles, he’s made a fabulous investment in the future of Sandy Hook. It has to succeed — it should help that he has the only liquor license on the Hook.
Credit also goes to project manager, Dennis O’Halloran, another Monmouth Beach resident. The team had an ideal piece of architecture from which to create the vision. The building, which dates to 1899, began as a stable for horses and mules used by the US Army on old Fort Hancock. Soldiers called the 6,000-square-foot building the “Mule Barn.”
Ferrise is leasing the “old animal shed” property from the owners, the National Park Service (which has been trying to re-develop other decaying historic properties on Sandy Hook for decades — MORE INFO). All the tavern rehab expenses are with Ferrise.
Sandy Hook outings are there own reward, of course, but talk about your grand locations for a restaurant. The new tavern is at 36 Kearney Road and a couple of shore area treasures — Sandy Hook Lighthouse and Army Officer’s Row — are both within shouting distance. The exterior — left largely intact — is the classic buff-brick Georgian-Revival design that prevails throughout this old seashore military post.
Interiors are rustically handsome and sturdy. The two-story eatery offers bars on both floors and seating for 250+ overall. There’s outdoor dining too with fabulous patio views of the bay. A full-service kitchen with attentive waitstaff offer a highly competent bill of fair. Consider the menu — HERE.
“I am a guardian of freedom and the American way of life.”
—US Army Soldier’s Creed
Ferrise was able to square away a near-forgotten relic of the hook’s past. After the mules and horses were retired, according to a 1999 Asbury Park Park Press story on the structure (known officially as Building #35), it was used as an officer’s barracks during World War II and then a NCO club (with Tiki Bar) in the 1950s. Given recognition in the old barn were the last two horses used by fort mounted patrols (“Pogo” and “Lans”).
At its peak, as World War II was beginning, about 8,000 military and civilian personnel were stationed at Fort Hancock. After the military decommissioned the peninsula in 1974, Sandy Hook became a National Park — the Gateway National Recreation Area (with 2+ million summer visitors).
I respect the tavern’s website promise — “where delectable flavors meet historic charm.” It’s something different. Americans are “eating out” less frequently nowadays due to a shaky economy and yet their true power — to seek out competitors (ie, other restaurants) — holds supreme. With some 27,000 NJ restaurants operating statewide, it’s an American commerce mainstay that is today more perplexing than inspiring. “Restaurateur” is among the most difficult and challenging businesses there are. That person must address so many concerns, complete so many tasks, satisfy so many tastes, and manage so many personalities. They must look good while doing it; every day too. It must be a calling with lots of adaptation along the way.
At present the Mule Barn Tavern is open all season, 7 days a week from 11 am to 8 pm. More Info — HERE. Good luck to all involved.
In the Past …
The Sea Gulls’ Nest Remembered
The history of food and drink on Sandy Hook would be incomplete without including a guy named Edward Segall.
Raised one of nine children in Newark, Ed opened a Sandy Hook concession stand business in Summer 1962 when he won the first contract to operate at the park. Back then Sandy Hook was a state park and Segall successfully transitioned his business from state control to a National Park in 1974.
By the 1970s he was selling beer and had expanded with bigger food concession trainers in the 1980s. The Sea Gulls’ Nest was opened in 1996 — located between the ocean and bay. Build as part of an $11 million federal rehab effort begun in 1991, the two-story complex — the Sea Gulls’ Nest sat open-air on the second-floor deck — was in Area D, “the most popular and the best beach on Sandy Hook.”
Located a brief drive into the park, summertime patrons enjoyed food, drink, music, and magnificent sunsets. Typically capped off by a group rendition of “God Bless America.” A proud WW II veteran, Ed had served under General Douglas MacArthur during the post-war occupation of Japan. He’d also lost a brother killed in action at Normandy. He had affinity and pride for all uniformed folks, admirers said.
Sandy Hook’s ultimate pit stop, the Sea Gulls’ Nest was closed in October 2012 after major damage from Superstorm Sandy (which clobbered the national park for $180+ million in damages). The feds ultimately canceled the Segall lease and the building was torn down in May 2019.
• Images of Sandy Hook — HERE
• Images of Sandy Hook Lighthouse — HERE
• Sandy Hook …. Shore Oasis — HERE
• Highland Beach: Playground from the Past — HERE