We’d hoped to publish this post for you last week, but we were busy finishing up the Winter issue of Cape May Magazine. Please enjoy this (slightly belated) look at the new Cricket Club!
From the outside, the building still resembles the Merion Inn, but a step through the front door of the Cricket Club is a totally different experience. Gone are the floral wallpapers and patterned carpets, the tablecloths, the lace curtains, the old wooden bar, the piano. The walls in the entry and bar area are painted a fresh mossy green—a shade called Buckingham Palace, said Marta Kulkowitz, who beamed as she told us about the new decor during the Cricket Club’s Friends and Family Night on October 13th.
The Kulkowitz family has owned and run the Carroll Villa Hotel and Mad Batter Restaurant since 1976. Harry Kulkowitz passed the business to his son Mark, who has run it with his wife, Pam Huber, for more than forty years. Marta and her siblings, Kyle and Tess, make up the third generation. The family purchased the building at 106 Decatur Street and has been working to open the Cricket Club since earlier this year.
The Merion Inn winks from the familiar stained glass windows in the wall between the bar and the dining room, and from repurposed light fixtures sporting new shades, but almost everything else is new. Marta had the challenge of selecting a color palette while the bar was down to studs. Carpet gave way to hard floors. The custom wood bar, locally constructed by Max Samuelson and his crew, spans the depth of the room. It’s surrounded by tufted brown stools with brass tacks and legs, which also flank square cocktail-height tables that resemble white marble. Overheard, mid-century lighting highlights the surprisingly tall ceilings and freshly painted molding. Greenery softens the cutouts between rooms. On the walls is a collection of pastels curated by local artist Stan Sperlak. The dining areas are painted a pale pink.
“Surreal,” replied Mark Kulkowitz, following a thoughtful pause, when asked his impression of the transformation.
The decor isn’t the only change. The Cricket Club’s new menu was designed by Chef Jon Davies (aka our Persnickety Chef), who worked with the Kulkowitz family years ago at the Mad Batter.
“I’m so pleased with the menu,” he confided when he stopped by our table with an air of exhausted pride.
The menu features local and international flavors, as well as plant-based options that celebrate natural flavors. Chef Jon said he wanted to create vegan options that anyone would be happy to order.
Throughout the evening, servers offered bite-sized portions of items from the Cricket Club’s new menu: Curry Cauliflower Bisque (vegan), Grilled Octopus, Spicy Tuna Roll, Lamb Ribs, Chicken Poor Mi, Shrimp and Cauliflower Grits, and Cape May Scallops (Chef Jon called these his favorite). For those who miss the Merion’s potato cup, the chef added a nod with the Loaded Potato Muffins. Servers also brought out bite-sized seasonal desserts—pecan pie and pumpkin cheesecake—that we couldn’t stop eating. Fingers crossed the chef will consider adding a trio of dessert sliders to the bar menu.
Since we had been among the first to arrive for the event, we’d been lucky enough to score a seat in the bar at one of the cocktail tables and sat there for a few hours. The space is comfortable, the kind of place where you want to linger over drinks with friends, though when the bar was full, the echo made it difficult to hear.
As someone who had only been into the Merion a handful of times, I asked a longtime fan his feelings about the change. After a somewhat bittersweet glance around the restaurant, he admitted that the updates were for the best—but he would miss the piano.