New look in the works for Olde Union House

By gloria stravelli
Staff Writer

By gloria stravelli
Staff Writer

GLORIA STRAVELLI  The Garden Room in the Olde Union House, Red Bank, is slated to undergo some renovations in anticipation of being turned into a new restaurant called the Hiptown Grille.GLORIA STRAVELLI The Garden Room in the Olde Union House, Red Bank, is slated to undergo some renovations in anticipation of being turned into a new restaurant called the Hiptown Grille.

RED BANK —The Planning Board last week approved a facelift for one of the oldest commercial structures in the borough.

Owners of the Olde Union House, established at its present site in 1791, received approval last week for the demolition and reconstruction of the northeast portion of the building at 11 Wharf Ave. without any change to the footprint of the building.

Scheduled for demolition is a porch-like addition known as the Garden Room that is presently used for private parties, co-owner Neil Malloy told the board.

Plans designed by Red Bank architect Patrick Gilvary call for converting the room into a casual dining space called the Hiptown Grille, according to Patricia Malloy, who co-owns the restaurant with her husband.

The new restaurant at the corner of Wharf Avenue and Union Street will have seating for 59 in the dining area and 18 at the bar, which will offer a view of the Navesink River. The project also includes a renovation that will reorganize the kitchen to enable the staff to produce foods for two different menus at the same time, Neil Malloy noted. The 109-seat Olde Union House will continue to feature a fine dining menu for lunch and dinner.

The new grille will build on the success of the restaurant’s popular Union Deck, which features casual fare such as sandwiches, wraps and salads geared to families in warm-weather months, said Neil Malloy, an Oceanport resident.

"We do a tremendous business there," he said. "We will take that concept and move it inside year-round. In the summer, we’ll run three restaurants on site."

"Red Bank has so many restaurants, but not many offer casual fare," added Patricia Malloy.

Neil Malloy told the Planning Board that he purchased the restaurant in 1994 after it had been vacant for two years and reopened it after extensive renovations. The restaurant had been owned by members of the Vaiti family, Red Bank restaurateurs who also owned the former Sal’s Tavern on Shrewsbury Avenue. Eight years later, he said, the 1,300-square-foot restaurant located in Red Bank’ s CCD-2 zone in the Historic District again needs refurbishing.

"The whole place needs a facelift," he told the board. "Rather than tweak it, it will be rebuilt."

The project does not increase square footage, Gilvary stressed.

"We are just going to knock the room down to the foundation and rebuild it," the architect said. "It’s replacement in kind."

Gilvary said the project design integrates what is actually three separate structures: the oldest, a Colonial-style building; a smaller structure in the center with a hip roof added in the 1950s; and the garden room.

A parapet railing atop the structures will serve as a unifying design element.

The application sought approval for a site plan and variances for lot coverage and front setback. A parking variance is not required because no new floor area is being added, according to Planning and Zoning Board Director Donna Barr. Parking for the restaurant currently consists of on-street spots.

At the urging of the planning board, the applicant agreed to replace a fence screening the trash enclosure, and Gilvary assured board members that historic colors will be used for the exterior of the structure.

According to the Olde Union House Web site, the site of the dining room was originally a farmers’ market situated close to the steamboat landings at the foot of Wharf Avenue.

In the 1800s, the hotel was a popular stopping place for farmers taking their produce to the wharf to be shipped to New York.

With the rise of passenger lines, the hotel proved equally popular with travelers making their way from New York to the Shore as late as the 1930s. Around the turn of the last century, according to the Web site, "entertainers appearing at the old Opera House on West Front Street and the Lyceum Theatre, once located on the site of the municipal tennis courts, often made the Union House their home while in Red Bank."

The hotel was remodeled in the spring of 1953 and again in July 1964 in preparation for a gala Fourth of July celebration. However, a fire gutted all but what is now the saloon on July 3 of that year.

A newly restored Union House, which kept the original exterior architecture intact, reopened on Oct. 30, 1964.

In 1969, according to the Web site, plans called for the Olde Union House to be torn down for development of a new high-rise building, but a campaign was mounted by concerned citizens to save the landmark.