Backyard bars in NJ: If you build it, they will come
Donald LaBrutto lives just 10 minutes from the Point Pleasant Beach boardwalk, but when he feels the need for a night out with friends and family, he doesn't have to deal with the summer bar crowds, cover charges and long lines for a drink.
In fact, he doesn't have to go "out" at all. He's one of many New Jersey residents joining in the nationwide trend of creating a "speakeasy" right in their own backyards.
The 54-year-old Brick resident hosts pizza nights at his tiki bar on Fridays, and he'll be upping his game real soon when the pizza oven he ordered arrives from California.
Located about 20 feet from his pool, LaBrutto's bar is always fully-stocked for visitors, he said. The bar seats 7 people, but it was also at the center of an 80-person pig roast in LaBrutto's backyard.
"If all the seats are filled, I'm always in the back of the bar, keeping the drinks flowing," LaBrutto said. "I get a lot of complaints the next day because a lot of people are hungover."
The bar is a big draw for friends, he said, especially because it saves them from spending $5 to $8 per drink at a traditional watering hole.
Market research from Mintel found drinkers consume almost twice the amount of drinks at home than they do in restaurants or bars on a monthly basis. The research said the "off-premise alcoholic beverage market" grew by 21 percent from 2004 to 2010.
The latest Nielsen numbers estimated that more than 600 neighborhood bars close each month, perhaps falling victim to the rise of chain restaurants, as well as breweries that feature meals and snacks.
Toms River resident Ernest Papa, 51, originally had plans for a "small island" bar with an umbrella, but he soon decided that if he was going to go through with the project, he was going to do it right.
Now in its fifth season, Papa's 15-seat bar has handled several gatherings for family and friends, including birthdays, Father's Day, Memorial Day Weekend and an engagement party in early September.
The bar, attached right to Papa's house, is equipped with a grill, burners, kegerator, refrigerator, ice chest and a sink, along with a flat-screen television and stereo system.
"It's just a different atmosphere than just sitting at a kitchen table or an island; you feel like you're at a bar," Papa said. "I always say I wished I had this on a beach somewhere where I can serve to the public because I could be a millionaire by now."
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Contact reporter Dino Flammia at firstname.lastname@example.org.