BY Debbie Galant
This ain't no dinky county park hotdog stand. McLoone's Boathouse, a 12,000-square foot restaurant adjacent to Essex County's miniGolf Safari, is the kind of place where you'll want to go for Mother's Day brunch, have drinks with your office mates, take your family for dinner on Sunday nights… and possibly plan to have your daughter's wedding. Built for $4 million, the massive structure, designed to look like a rustic boathouse, with views of the Orange Reservoir, is owned by Essex County and is accepting reservations for dining starting this Friday, Oct. 21. It's a marvel of a place, with big stone gas-lit fireplaces, water views, dramatic blue lighting and outdoor seating — and it feels more like a very nice restaurant somewhere in the Adirondacks than a place to accommodate families who've been mini-golfing, visiting the Turtle Back Zoo or ice skating at the Codey Arena.
McLoone's Restaurants is the concessionaire and will pay the county $22,500 in rent per month. It has the concession for 15 years with two additional five-year options. The arrangement is similar to that of the Highlawn Pavilion in Eagle Rock Reservation, which is also owned by the county.
Unlike Highlawn Pavilion, however, McLoone's Boathouse is positioning itself as an affordable destination. Its lunch menu features sandwiches from $10.95 (grilled chicken flatbread) to $14.95 (crab cakes), salads ranging from $10.95 to $16.95 and burgers starting at $9.95.
The dinner menu also includes $9.95 burgers and $10.95 salads, but includes entrees ranging from $24.95 (lobster quesadilla) to $32.95 (Frutti Di Mare).
County Executive Joe DiVincenzo was the last in a long succession of speakers to open the restaurant officially, and he was more hopped up than I've ever seen him. In a booming voice, DiVincenzo defended his vision of the South Mountain Recreation Complex, which has been attacked by political foes for spending taxpayer dollars on entertainment facilities.
"This site was a total eyesore," Joe DiVincenzo, pointing out that the land the restaurant sits on was used for years for carnivals and carnival parking. "It was a disgrace."
He pointed out that his mini-golf investment — which cost $700,000 to build — will have paid for itself by the end of next season. He says it brought in $86,000 in 2010 and will make $300,000 by the time it closes this year on Thanksgiving weekend.
Tim McLoone, who grew up in Orange, gave a charming speech in which he wished his parents were still alive (to wait tables and man the bar), but added, "A third of the people who come through these doors the next few weeks will want to hate us."
DiVincenzo is working with the township of Orange to get access to the reservoir to allow boating and create a running path.
McLoone's Boathouse is located at 9 Cherry Lane in West Orange, at the intersection of Northfield Ave.