Sometimes, the attitude in New Bedford is that we can’t have nice things.
But not this summer.
This summer Margaritaville has arrived on the South End Peninsula.
“If Jimmy Buffett opened a place in New Bedford, this is what it would look like,” said Steve Silverstein of Cisco Brewers.
Silverstein is the man with the Midas Touch when it comes to restaurants and pubs. The Not Your Average Joe’s chain (now called Joe’s Original in Dartmouth); The Black Whale; the reincarnated Cultivator Shoals — everything he has touched has seemed to turn to gold.
But Silverstein and his partner Jay Harman, who founded the Cisco Brewers brand of beer gardens on Nantucket, have now brought Cisco to the beach. Literally the beach at Billy Woods Wharf in New Bedford.
Wednesday afternoon at 5 o’clock, Silverstein and Harman opened the doors to Cisco Brewers, and it’s hard to imagine summer nights being the same in the city.
Almost immediately the parking lots were full, and Rodney French Boulevard was accommodating the spillover. By a little after 6, the wait was an hour-and-a-half to get a table.
Even on a cooler than average late June evening and with no outdoor alcohol on tap yet, waiting in the beer garden was easy time. The merchandise trailer containers and the five outdoor bars and entertainment stage won’t be open until early July, but the crowd seemed content to just imbibe the beautiful setting.
How can I describe what Silverstein and Harman have done at the former Davy’s Locker family-style restaurant on East Rodney French?
They have built a beach resort.
Cisco’s has autographed surfboards and photos of professional surfers indoors and out, beach umbrellas outside, four-thousand plantings along the walkways and a touch of artistic flair with framed vintage women’s bathing suits hanging on the restaurant and indoor bar walls.
The old Davy’s (which had already been rebuilt as the short-lived The Edge a few years ago) has been brightened up by the Cisco project and made more casual. More light and beachy.
Even though there’s 5½ million bucks poured into the setting, it has the laid-back feel of that favorite beach shack bar where you hung out as a kid. California is a lot of his inspiration, says Silverstein.
“This is a spectacular piece of property,” he mused. “But nobody’s recognized what it was. You tell me, where else are you going to find 3½ acres on the waterfront.”
Stone walkways and a sandy picnic area, the whitewashed shell parking lot on one side and the blue water of New Bedford’s outer harbor on the other.
“It’s a cool experience outdoors. The best place to catch a buzz,” said Harman, sounding like he is very much in tune with the laid-back brand of Cisco.
The Nantucket beer garden, which Harman describes as an “iconic, apres beach spot” is now 26 years old. And Harman has birthed other Cisco relaxation spas in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, Boston’s Seaport District, and The Villages in Stamford, Connecticut.
Here’s the really cool thing about Cisco New Bedford: The sand patios.
The same sand color as the small harbor beach literally next door, the place makes you feel like kicking off your sandals, or wishing that you had worn sandals if you didn’t. Sitting on picnic-like benches on that sandy flattop, you will be surrounded by all the entertainment, gift shopping and craft alcohol you could want on a summer night. There’s room for 800 folks, with the majority of the seating outside.
The outdoor venues at the New Bedford location include everything from vending trailers for its Cisco branded merchandise to its own craft-made beer, wine and spirits; vending stalls and bars, a raw bar, a BBQ smoker, and a fire pit at the edge of the beach. There are five bars outside and two inside, a restaurant area indoors and restaurant tables sprinkled through the pubs. That’s 175 indoor-dining seats.
Cisco is working with the Army Corps of Engineers to install some moorings and floating docks in the outer harbor. It has its own dock where eventually you’ll be able to pull up in a dinghy from the boat you moored nearby. You’ll walk up the plank and enjoy the beer garden.
It’s not all perfection in paradise. Silverstein acknowledges the neighbors are concerned about traffic and noise from the music, and he pledges to work with them. But the operation is leasing space from the city in the old Schamonchi parking lot across the boulevard. The outdoor music will end at 10 p.m.
Silverstein notes that the property with the harborside views was going to be developed one way or the other. It was zoned so a hotel or condominium complex could have been built there, blocking off the neighbors’ waterfront views and the view of the water from the public, too.
What’s surrounding Cisco Brewers along the shoreside?
A public boardwalk. The development is built on tidal lands, so it has to have public access. As a result, Cisco’s paid for a beautiful waterside boardwalk around the entire property that anyone is free to walk at any time.
Silverstein motions to a sailboat in the harbor and talks about the scallop vessels that come and go.
“This is what you get to watch all day. You get to watch the parade of boats in and out all day.”
Sometimes, New Bedford’s beaches are gazed down upon in the shade of places like Round Hill in Dartmouth and Fort Phoenix in Fairhaven. That’s fine. They are city beaches.
But the presence of Cisco Brewers is going to draw back the curtain on what lovely city beaches they are, with vistas every bit as breathtaking as West Island, sparkling ocean as charming as Horseneck, except you don’t have to walk to see it.
Silverstein, nearing retirement age, didn’t think he was interested in the property until he walked it a couple years ago. Once he did, he worked out a deal right then and there, and immediately sought out Harman, who he knew could make the beer garden work.
“We know the market is there,” he said. “There’s success stories here. There’s a quarter of a million people with 15 minutes access.”
As the summer warms, Silverstein expects the word of mouth to build over the next two weeks.
“This is my 31st restaurant. I’ve never received so many emails in advance of opening,” he said.
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