The Wharf Returns April 17

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 Cold drinks, comforting cuisine and can’t-beat sunsets along the city skyline. You can find it all in one place again when The Wharf reopens on Saturday, April 17.

It’s a hidden gem, but for those in the know, The Wharf Bar & Grill is a longtime community staple that keeps people coming back. What some might not know was that last summer, it went through a slight change of hands. The Wharf has been run by the Bulloch family for over 50 years. It all began with Bill and Mavis Bulloch, who started it as a bait shop and private club.

In 1979, Jimmy Bulloch and Bobby Leckie opened it more to the public and the casual restaurant on the bay near Beach 116th Street has served as a go-to for locals ever since. As Leckie wanted to retire, last summer a new team took over with the Bullochs still at the helm. The Wharf is now operated by a team of Jimmy Bulloch Sr. and Jimmy Bulloch Jr., Jeanie Bulloch McHale, Scott Hendricks and Christopher Haughie. With the restaurant being in the Bulloch family for so long, it only made sense to continue the tradition. “We wanted to keep it in the family and some other people were interested, so it was then or never,” Jeanie McHale explained.

However, the team was immediately hit with the new challenge of the Covid pandemic and the restrictions that came along with it. “We have such a big outdoor space that it wasn’t that terrible. People wanted to be outside. We had a good summer. The only thing is that people come to a bar to relax and eat and enjoy themselves and having to tell people to put a mask on and basically babysitting adults was tough, but we had to do it because these agencies were giving $10,000 fines and taking away licenses,” McHale said.

As the sunset went down and the warm weather went away, things got more complicated. “We tried to stay open, but it was very hard to pay our kitchen staff and pay the bills because inside occupancy was only 25% and we could only have about 18 people in there. It was too expensive to stay open,” McHale said. So in December, the team decided to close.

However, they didn’t let a minute go to waste. Without customers in the restaurant, the team took advantage of the opportunity to give The Wharf a much-needed makeover. “We thought, well we might as well paint and do some work and one thing led to another and we started seeing things that hadn’t been changed since Hurricane Sandy and we just started fixing them,” she said. New coats of paint, replaced cabinets, restored beams, and all new wood paneling around the restaurant are just some of the changes customers will notice when the doors reopen on April 17. “We call it a lipstick makeover,” McHale said.

The menu will also see some changes, some of which were implemented last year, but nothing too drastic. “Last summer we tried more healthy options on the menu and we’re looking forward to doing more of that and bringing more new things to the menu, including more seafood options,” McHale said. Last summer, they had introduced things like avocado toast, a brown rice burrito bowl and a shrimp wrap, which were big hits. McHale says they’d also like to bring back more regular seafood options besides the classic lobster roll and fish tacos on the menu, like salmon and mussels. But the regular favorites aren’t going anywhere. “The staples stay,” McHale said. And of course, breakfast will return. “You can’t go wrong sitting on the water with steak and eggs,” she said.

Most importantly, everything good about The Wharf that people have come to love, will remain. “I don’t want to take away the casual charm of the place, where you can come off the beach in your bathing suit and stop by. We have 100 million ideas for what we’d like to do, and we’ll take care of those as we go but we want to leave that charm. We don’t want to change it too much. We can’t mess with the sunset,” McHale said. And things will run more smoothly. “We have three or four bosses here at one time, which makes things run a little smoother. We had a hell of a summer last year and we were here all the time, but it made a big difference with the time that food comes out and being able to seat people more quickly,” McHale said. “We make a good team.”

Along with the staples and new menu items, frozens will return, with even more consistency. “We got a new frozen machine for the outside, so we’ll never have a lapse in between while waiting for things to freeze,” McHale said. They’ll also offer a cocktail menu with specials for those looking for something different and will have more craft beer options for those looking for more than regular domestics. “We’re a Bud Light town but we’ve added more IPAs and other beers because the people coming off the ferry like them,” McHale explained.

McHale also hopes to see the return of live music to the deck. “We can’t wait to do live music. It’s just a vibe. It’s what people want when they come out. I don’t understand why there couldn’t be live music last year with people sitting down and dining, but we can’t wait to bring it back,” she said.

Mostly, the owners can’t wait to open their doors. Since The Wharf closed in December, locals have eagerly been asking when it would return. “We’re pumped that people are interested. It shows they’re waiting to get here and sit outside. Our wait staff is ready too,” McHale said. The Wharf will reopen on Saturday, April 17, which happens to be Jimmy Bulloch Jr.’s birthday. As the weather starts to warm up, McHale says it’s the perfect time to get the ball rolling and get back into the swing of things ahead of the full busy summer season. “We’re excited to be back,” she said.

The Wharf, located at 416 Beach 116th Street, will be open seven days a week, starting with breakfast at 9 a.m. For more info, call 718-474-8807.

 By Katie McFadden

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