Sea Bright, NJ 07760
- Hours: 8 a.m. to 12 a.m. on weekdays, 8 a.m. to 2 a.m. on weekends
- Cuisine: Bar Food, Burgers, Seafood, American, Chicken, and Breakfast
- Meals Served: Dinner and Lunch
- Price Range: $ (Under $9)
- Alcohol: Full Bar
- Admission Price: $7 cover on weekends
- Dress Code: Anything Goes
By Jocelyn Greer
When you walk up to the doors of Donovan's Reef in Sea Bright, it feels as if you're stepping foot on a Caribbean island.
Outside, the walls are painted to look like the bottom of the ocean. Inside, people clad in beachwear sip cold drinks served by bartenders in uniforms that resemble a lifeguard's. Travel through another door and you're on the beach — where two more bars, a lifeguard stand and a volleyball court are set up.
"I like to say it's happy hour all the time," manager Susie Markson said. Donovan's Reef is open from 8 a.m. to 2 a.m., and Markson affirmed that there are people either inside enjoying the atmosphere or outside soaking up the sun "all day long."
Markson said that the bar has a certain calm and relaxing energy, which she attributes in part to its proximity to the beach. New Jersey law prohibits the consumption of alcohol on public beaches. But because Donovan's is situated on a private beach, it is one of few places in the state where people may enjoy a drink while lounging by the ocean, Markson explained.
And according to Markson, the beach at Donovan's is a huge attraction. "Everyone wants to have their feet in the sand," she joked.
People from Sea Bright and the surrounding Shore towns flock to Donovan's and the outdoor Tiki bar, in particular.
Although the night crowd at Donovan's is getting younger, throughout the day, they still see older locals who have been coming to the bar for years.
And the diversity found at Donovan's is not just in age. Markson said, "This is the kind of place where millionaires sit at the bar next to construction workers."
She believes that part of the reason why nearly everyone who comes to Donovan's feels so welcome is because of the friendly staff members and their chemistry with one another. "We're like a family," she explained.
Markson, who has been working at the bar for fourteen years, laughed at memories from past summers with cocktail waitresses who got their first jobs at the Reef and haven't missed a season yet. Out on the beach, she teased a couple of "her boys" — lifeguards and security staffers in their 20s who have worked at Donovan's since they were teenagers.
The tight-knit bond the staff of Donovan's shares makes for smooth and hospitable service. Markson explained that the employees make a point to learn the names of new patrons, and at nighttime, they encourage customers to get up and dance with them.
The regulars at Donovan's have learned to have fun on their own, too. Markson says that people who frequent the bar have started a pick-up volleyball league of sorts that plays on the net on the beach. During games, crowds congregate on the sand to spectate. "Anyone can come and play," she explained.
Donovan's also has live entertainment throughout the week. Every Thursday at 7:30 p.m. a band called The Shots plays on the outdoor stage. And on Fridays, DJ Jimi Mac performs at 4 p.m. On Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights, Donovan's hosts other live acts that change from week to week. The music starts at 10 p.m. on Fridays, 9 p.m. on Saturdays and 6 p.m. on Sundays.
In spite of Markson's personal mantra, the happy hour at Donovan's is technically from 4 to 7 p.m. During that time, the bar offers deals on twisted tea cocktails — specialty best-sellers — and Miller Light and Bud Light.
From 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., the kitchen at Donovan's serves what they call bar food — burgers, cheese fries, chicken sandwiches, all for less than $10.
"It's a really fun atmosphere," Markson said as she leaned against the Tiki bar in the hot summer sun. "But it's the type of place you have to experience to understand."