Cape May’s Mad Batter & Carroll Villa in Cape May, NJ: Updated but Preserved

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Architectural Styles of Cape May’s Iconic 19th Century Hotels Preserve the Resort’s History

More than 135 years later, the Mad Batter and the Carroll Villa, updated but preserved, continue to be an integral part of the fabric of Cape May, America’s First Seaside Resort.

Contact: Kay Busch – (609) 884-5970
Editor's Note: More photos Available Upon Request

Harry Kulkowitz was a visionary.

Back in the 1970s he was playing cards with the owner of the Carroll Villa, a rather shabby building but one that Kulkowitz envisioned as a great restaurant and inn, welcoming guests, serving amazing food and showcasing art and music in beautiful surroundings, especially on the sprawling front porch.

The urban legend that Harry won the building in that poker game is just that – an urban legend – but Harry did buy the building for $96,000 in a sleepy seaside town that basically had a Memorial Day to Labor Day season, but seemed to be on the cusp of a renaissance.

Kulkowitz’s instincts were spot on.
Cape May blossomed into an incredibly popular Victorian resort and the Carroll Villa and his Mad Batter Restaurant, especially that wonderful porch, played a key role in the resort’s amazing revitalization.    

As the popularity of Cape May increased year after year, more and more businesses stayed open usually March to late December and that included the Mad Batter. But the porch that fronted right on Historic Jackson Street, perhaps the most popular part of the restaurant, was a seasonal operation.

Change does not come easily in Cape May, a National Historic Landmark City, but a year or so ago, the Kulkowitzs – now Mark, his wife Pam Huber and their adult children – decided it was time to remodel and update that inviting porch to celebrate 40 years of being an integral part of the Cape May restaurant scene.

Earlier this spring, the awning-shaded porch at the Mad Batter opened with a new look - a total make over, top to bottom, roof to sidewalk, side to side. Mark calls the new look “pretty exciting” and credits local artisans with maintaining the historical aspects of the Italianate-style building that dates to 1882. Some of the original decorative pieces were restored and reinstalled. Other materials are brand new but look like they have been there since the property was built.    

Retractable Plexiglas panels with ornate white brackets were added, open to the ocean breezes or closed when the weather is cool. Radiant heat provides year-round comfort. The floor plan provides half-wall partitions with some booth seating featuring vibrant, colorful upholstery to complement the white wainscoting and pale blue ceiling. The vibe is definitely fun, relaxing and laid back. And the menu? Still amazing!

Kulkowitz is always eager to have customers, although he’s more likely to call them friends, enjoy the porch year-round. “We love the fact that the Batter has become a place where people can look across the bar and talk to everyone. Every night is fun and upbeat with great music, food and people,” he said.

In 2001, Kulkowitz bought at liquor license, for $800,000 and a leap of faith, which proved to be a wise investment.    Along the way, tiny rooms in the hotel have been reduced by almost half to make accommodations larger and more comfortable with private baths, air conditioning and flat screen TVs.    

Solar panels were installed on the roof of the 19th century building, not an easy sell to the town’s historic preservation committee members, and in the kitchen, efficient appliances reduce energy consumption.
“You want to do something in life you can be proud of,” Kulkowitz said. “With the Mad Batter and Carroll Villa we’ve married the best of the past with the best of the present. Now that we’re into the third generation of Huberwitzes, it’s fitting that this is the culmination of our lifetime achievement award.”

So, more than 135 years after the Carroll Villa was built, and more than 40 years since Harry Kulkowitz finagled a $96,000 loan to buy the building, the Mad Batter and the Carroll Villa, updated but preserved, continue to be an integral part of the history and fabric of Cape May, America’s First Seaside Resort.

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Kay Busch
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