Spotlight On… Cabanas!
At CMBC, we’ve got a soft spot in our heart for Cabanas Beach Bar and Grill at 429 Beach Avenue in Cape May. Not only is it rated one of the best spots in town (four stars on Google), not only do they have a great beer selection, not only is their menu amazing, but they were the very first bar in town to sign on with us.
“It wasn’t even a question for us,” says Payton Bowman of Cabanas. “We were like, ‘We’re in!’”
“We’ve always supported local measures,” Payton says. “We buy our bikes from the local bike shops, not the Walmarts and the big box stores. It was part of our grassroots philosophy, and, obviously, Cape May is as local as it can get with us.
“But, really, I think the biggest seller was that we liked the beer. It was good beer. We still like the beer.”
If they hadn’t taken that leap, Ryan, Hank, and Mop Man would still be the best homebrewers in Cape May.
Since we opened in 2011, Payton estimates that they’ve gone through about 5 kegs a week for the past six years — which is about 780 barrels.
That’s… that’s a lot of beer.
“In the beginning, we were taking it as fast as you guys could make it,” Payton says.
“It wasn’t very fast,” Richie jokes.
We’re still their biggest-selling craft beer — “By far,” Payton says.
We sat with Payton in their upstairs establishment, The Iron Pier Craft House. As the name might suggest, the Iron Pier is more of a craft beer gastropub, while Cabanas downstairs is more of a beach bar.
And the view is pretty spectacular. We took a corner table by the street.
“It’s the best table in Cape May,” Payton said, proudly.
With the windows open and a cool breeze coming in off the ocean, we had a full view of the beach and of the bathers strolling down Beach Ave., the umbrellas flapping in the wind, and the bikes tooling around the area. He wasn’t exaggerating.
Iron Pier started as fine dining, but it wasn’t working out. So Payton decided to turn it into Cape May’s first craft beer bar.
“We knew we didn’t want to get into the fine dining aspect,” he tells us, “and, really, there are no gastropubs or craft houses in the area, so we felt it allowed us to be a little upscale ‘adult bar-ish’.”
“There’s really nothing like this in the area,” Richie agrees.
When Cabanas started carrying craft in 2007, Cape May was in the infant stages of beer geekery.
“At that point, the Iron Pier was ahead of the curve,” Richie said.
“We were ahead of the curve,” Payton agrees. “It took awhile, but everyone caught on to it.”
Now, they’ve got a lot of the local guys on tap, focusing on a regional tap list. As a beach bar in a summer destination, that makes sense — people tend to want to experience the local flavor when they’re on vacation.
They’ve got a whopping forty taps throughout both bars, and CMBC is on five of them. They rotate out our seasonal offerings, but the stalwart Cape May IPA is always on tap.
The building had been a number of different businesses throughout the years, but Cabanas has been going strong since 1999. The owners came from Ocean City, Maryland, so beach bar had always been part of their vocabulary.
In the ‘60s, it was a live entertainment venue, and Cabanas hasn’t abandoned that aspect of the business, with live bands throughout the summer and serving as a venue for the Exit Zero Jazz Festival in the spring and fall.
The entertainment they schedule at the two establishments mirrors the feel of the two bars: more singer/songwriters with an acoustic vibe upstairs at the Iron Pier and party bands downstairs at Cabanas, with Reggae Sundays being a huge draw.
In the off-season, they do a number of special events. Their Wing War is always well-attended — in mid-November, the area restaurants enter their wings into a competition for bragging rights.
CMBC always provides a special one-off, Devil’s Heat — Devil’s Reach infused with habañeros — for the event.
Payton attributes the success of Cabanas through the years to the people involved.
“We have some really great people involved with us,” he says. “They’re really the face of who we are.”
The menus at the two establishments are some of the best in Cape May. Iron Pier focuses on locally-sourced, locally-inspired dishes, with tapas, pastas, fishes, and meats featured prominently. They tend to do a number of beer pairings, usually in the off-season.
Payton points to their Kobe Sliders with pub sauce, gouda, bacon jam, and plum tomatoes on soft pretzel rolls as one of the big sellers at Iron Pier. At Cabanas, it’s all about the fish tacos.
“The fish tacos are excellent,” Richie says.
“I was going to offer you guys some when we were done,” Payton says.
Through it all Cabanas has been one of our strongest supporters. Even through our recent redesign, they’ve held onto our history, keeping our original wooden New Jersey-shaped tap handle.
“We love those things,” Payton says. “We were sad when you guys came with the ceramic tap handles.”
Well, Payton, at this point, Mop Man would be whittling his life away making the old wooden ones.
Nonetheless, we’re still Jersey Proud, we still brew that classic IPA you’ve come to know and love, and we can’t think of a better summer spot to enjoy summer breezes, great times, great friends, great food, and some great Cape May beer.