AP NEWS

After Lenny’s closes, new restaurant brings new vibe to Old Lyme

May 2, 2019

Old Lyme — Known as one of the town’s main beach bars, Lenny’s on the Beach has helped attract both local and far-ranging clientele to the Sound View neighborhood for the last 11 years. With inexpensive beer, burgers and fries, the bar has successfully operated both as a day-time shack and night-time beach bar, delighting visitors who just wanted to have a simple, good time.

After 11 years, though, Lenny’s has closed. And coming in to replace it will be a “family-friendly” restaurant promising to bring a new vibe to the Old Lyme neighborhood.

Simply named Kokomo’s, the restaurant has been undergoing renovations over the last month or so and, with a full staff already in place, owner Brian Cleary said he plans to open it for the May 11 weekend.

“We are trying to be a restaurant that serves alcohol and not an alcohol establishment that serves fries on the side,” said Cleary, who is from Wolcott but also owns a house in the Hawk’s Nest neighborhood a few streets over from Kokomo’s. “We want it to be something nice. Family-friendly. Community-oriented. Anyone in the local community can come down here — not just 20-somethings, but all ages — and enjoy themselves.”

“We want it to be a place where you can have a nice dinner at night, with nice conversation, and not people hootin’ and hollerin’,” added Kokomo’s general manager James Patrick “JP” Moon.

Cleary, who used to own an Irish restaurant and pub in Waterbury and also owns a yacht chartering business with one yacht based out of Niantic, said he was inspired to open a “yacht-y beach” restaurant after he experienced the quality and service that he said often comes with chartered yachts.

“I’m trying to bring sea to land — that cruise ship, private yacht kind of experience to the beach,” Cleary said, while also explaining he has been looking up and down the Connecticut coast over the last five years for the perfect location to do so.

“I want something that will offer great service and a great family atmosphere at a great price point,” Cleary continued. “Combine that with the beach and Caribbean vibe, and I want people to come down here and really feel like they are on vacation.”

With a blue and white outdoor patio and façade, and Kokomo’s spelled out in white, minimalistic letters over the exterior of the building to reflect Cleary’s yacht-inspired vision, the restaurant’s interior and back patio still were under renovation Thursday.

Besides what will be a clean, beachy interior, the restaurant’s highlights will include a wrap-around 25-seat wet bar in the center of its outdoor patio — the lengths of which will also be covered by a “highly-sophisticated awning system” that can retract at night so as “to sit under the stars,” Moon said — as well as an indoor raw bar, which will offer oysters, clams, jumbo shrimp and lobster tail, among other seafood delights, in the restaurant’s front window for passerby to peer in at.

Heading the restaurant’s menu will be Ernesto Palij, a chef who over the last 12 years has worked on “mega yachts serving the rich and famous,” and who claims to be a master at “cooking anything in a limited amount of space and time,” and on a moment’s notice.

“I was creating food every day specific to yacht guests,” Palij said Thursday. “Millionaire magnates, actors, models. They can all be very specific” with what they eat.

Obtaining his degree from the Argentine Institute of Gastronomy, Palij hails from Buenos Aires, Argentina, and said he’s been a chef for 25 years. He and Cleary met through a mutual contact in the yacht-chartering industry, Cleary said.

The two also plan to work with another chef, who is soon coming on board from New Orleans, as well as with a local sous-chef “whose family works in the catering business,” Palij said.

The menu will be affordable, Cleary said, “Something that a family with two or three kids can sit down at and not break the bank.”

With plates averageing between 12, and seafood entrees between 28, Kokomo’s will offer salads, craft sandwiches and tacos, as well as other meat entrees, and a rotating specials menu later in the season.

When reached by phone Wednesday, Lenny Corto, who has run Lenny’s on the Beach over the last 11 summers, declined to comment on why the establishment closed or what he plans to do next. Corto, who lives in Old Lyme, is also chief executive of Soundview Brewing Co., a “gypsy brewing” company based in Old Lyme but which brews beers outside of town.

According to a recent Channel 3 report, Lenny’s closed after a dispute between Corto and property owner Frank Zoe. Sound View Commission Chair Frank Pappalardo said Wednesday that Zoe listed the 88 Hartford Ave. property for sale or rent last fall.

Corto said Wednesday that in summers past, the now-Kokomo’s location has seen a cycling of several establishments before Lenny’s opened. Having worked at those restaurants and seen them fail, Corto said Lenny’s was meant to appeal to the crowds, which often come from the Hartford area and southern Massachusetts, that he saw coming to Sound View Beach.

Located at the end of Hartford Avenue, Kokomo’s sits nestled between the resident and member-only Miami Beach Association, the town-owned Sound View Beach, and the Pavilion — another beach bar that features live music.

The area has been the subject of several disputes over the years, however, with the Miami Beach Association hiring security guards and erecting a fence between its beach and Sound View, and parking throughout the neighborhood becoming ever-more scarce as the town completed streetscape and pedestrian-safety improvements last year.

For Pappalardo, though, the new restaurant is just the next step in Sound View’s ever-changing evolution. He explained that Sound View has offered a public beach to visitors since Developer Henry Hilliard deeded the beach to the general public in the late 1800s.

“I’m excited about the restaurant, I really am,” he said. “The sense I get is that everyone is looking forward to having a nice restaurant down there. Everyone I’ve spoken to thinks it’s great. It gives a chance for people to go out and have a nice dinner and have a nice place to go out on Friday and Saturday. I think everyone is looking forward, and this is just part of the evolution.”

For more information or to make a reservation, visit www.kokomosrestaurant.com.

m.biekert@theday.com