The Mad Batter in the Carroll Villa on Jackson Street in Cape May, NJ is Celebrating its 40th anniversary with a New Look

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Carroll Villa Hotel built in 1882: Architectural Styles of Cape May’s Iconic 19th Century Hotels Preserves the Resort’s History

Even in Victorian Cape May, a sanctuary of preservation, things change – usually for the better. The Kulkowitz family has managed to keep up with the times while always preserving the history of the 1882 Italianate Villa-style building.

The popular, awning-shaded porch at the Mad Batter in the Carroll Villa on Jackson Street in Cape May is celebrating its 40th anniversary with a new look - a total make over, top to bottom, roof to sidewalk, side to side.

When Harry Kulkowitz bought the Carroll Villa back in the 1970s, it was a Victorian seaside hotel that had seen better days. He envisioned the sprawling, European-style porch as a great place for friends to gather and enjoy amazing food and spirited conversation. And, for decades, that porch has lived up to his expectations – and then some.

The porch was a seasonal spot in 1976 when Harry and his partner Vickie Seitchik open the Mad Batter, but, truth be told, the whole town was a Memorial Day to Labor Day resort, so an open-air, unheated porch worked well during those summer months.

Over the years, Cape May blossomed as a National Historic Landmark and the summer season expanded – and expanded - to the nearly year-round economy it enjoys today.

And, the Mad Batter quickly became one of the most popular gathering spots in town, a restaurant known for an amazing, creative menu, music, art exhibits and eventually a great bar. But the porch, a favorite with just about everyone in town, was closed during the colder months.

All that changed this year, according to Mark Kulkowitz, Harry’s son, who now owns the Carroll Villa and Mad Batter along with his wife Pam Huber. The couple’s three adult children - Marta, Tessa and Kyle, collectively the Huberwitzes - are also part of the family business.

“The porch has seen a lot of use – and abuse,” Mark said as he walked around the on-going construction area during the winter, obviously happy with his decision to turn the seasonal space into a comfortable, modern porch with all the charm of before, but with plenty of added amenities.

The new porch is enclosed with Plexiglas framed in wood with ornate white brackets, white wainscoting, a rich wood floor and a pale blue ceiling. The floor plan focuses on half-wall partitions offering a bit of privacy from the openness of the older porch with white furniture and darker blue accents. The vibe is definitely fun, relaxing and laid back.

Outside, the addition of a flat roof will make the building look more like it did a century ago, with Mark referring to the new look as “pretty exciting.”

Ray Hawthorne, of Hawthorne Davis Development LLC, commented on the many new and exciting changes at the Mad Batter, adding “we’re so happy to be a part of them.

“Over the past couple of years we have renovated the rear porch and the kitchen. This season we were asked to come back to help turn their vision of a year- round enclosed front porch into a reality. This has been an enjoyable project to work on and Mark and his family are wonderful to work with and we truly consider them friends,” Hawthorne added.

Kulkowitz describes himself as a kosher ham, a contradiction in terms perhaps, but an apt depiction of the enthusiasm he exudes about the Batter and his excitement over the latest renovations to his restaurant and hotel. He’s eager to have customers – although he’s more likely to refer to them as friends – enjoy the porch year- round, especially when the bar and restaurant is jumping with live music. “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.

Recently, in an interview in Exit Zero, he referred to the reconstruction of the porch as his “Bridge on the River Kwai” adding “now that we’re into the third generation of Huberwitzes, it’s fitting that this is the culmination of our lifetime achievement award.”
Kulkowitz frequently refers to Pam as the “heart and soul of the place” and adds kudos for Marta’s decorating expertise and Kyle’s “schmoozing” as the bartender that makes the Batter bar the Cheers of Cape May.

Even in Victorian Cape May, a sanctuary of preservation, things change – usually for the better. The Kulkowitz family - starting with Harry and continuing to Mark, Pam and their children - has managed, skillfully, to keep up with the times and expectations of guests while always preserving the history of the 1882 Italianate Villa-style building.

In 2001, Mark bought at liquor license – a pricy addition at $800,000 and a leap of faith that proved to be a wise investment for the restaurant and hotel. With a commitment to sustainability, the bar is a work of art with handmade glass mosaic walls and an eco-friendly IceStone bar top made of 75 % recycled glass and concrete, 23% percent new material and as Mark says, “because we live in New Jersey, 2 % Jimmy Hoffa.” Flooring in the dining area is bamboo, a replenished wood source.

Along the way, tiny rooms in the hotel have been reduced by almost half to make accommodations larger and more comfortable, all with private baths, air conditioning and flat screen TVs – and many of the rooms have corn rugs.

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.”

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Kay Busch
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