the station in bernardsville gets a makeover

July 4, 2013

The establishment's bar has been expanded and its interior reconfigured.

The Station, a restaurant and bar that was recently remodeled, sits across Mine Brook Road from the borough’s train station. Harold Imperatore, a principal with the firm that owns the establishment, frequently sees people cross the street after disembarking from a New Jersey Transit train. These commuters often will take their food to go. Some will first have an adult beverage.

“Towards the end of the week, especially, if it’s been a long week for them,” Imperatore said recently while sitting at a table near the bar, which was expanded from 10 seats to 32.

The building opened in 1878 as the 20-room Claremont Hotel. In 1922, the facility was converted to an apartment house and the bottom floor became a showroom for plumbing supplies. Eight apartments remain in the building, whose street level has also functioned as an automotive dealership, a barbershop and restaurants under various names.

The Station opened in 1986.

“It was a beer-and-shot type of place,” recalled Imperatore, a local resident for the last 25 years. “Dark, smoke-filled, you came here after a softball game and you got either a cheeseburger or a hamburger.”

Structural changes, which included moving the front wall out about 15 feet onto space formerly used as a portion of the patio, were undertaken last October.

“Believe it or not, Hurricane Sandy helped us out,” Imperatore said.

During the time when this section of Bernardsville was without power for over a week, crews poured concrete and reconfigured the eatery’s heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems to accommodate the larger interior.

“We did all that work during the time we had to be closed, like everybody else,” Imperatore said.

Interior changes were completed earlier this year. The larger bar was installed, along with sound-deadening acoustic panels designed to make conversation easier. After all the fixtures were added, the only things left unchanged from before were the establishment’s name and the staff of 25 employees.

“It’s completely different,” said Imperatore. “It’s just more comfortable now.”

“I’m shocked, because I still can’t believe the difference,” said Geraldine Infantolino, the general manager.

Hampshire Destination Properties, which owns The Station, also owns the nearby Bernards Inn, an upscale facility having 20 rooms, a staff of nearly 100 and a kitchen that provides fine dining. Most of its lodgers and many of its diners are from outside the area.

“It’s a higher price point over there than it is here,” said Imperatore. He oversees both properties.

The Station’s main clientele are locals.

“I see some people in here four or five times a week,” said Infantolino.

Dinner is the largest sales segment, according to Infantolino, but she said lunch and happy-hour are also busy times. She described the menu as American bistro, with burgers and pizza being popular items. The average check for a family, she said, was $65.

Hampton took over the property about 10 years ago, and remodeled the restaurant in 2006. Imperatore felt the interior remained too noisy, was inadequately illuminated and the tables were jumbled together. He also believed that one of his brothers-in-law, one of Hampton’s family owners, had applied for a permit to improve the building and was rejected by the borough.

“I was wrong,” Imperatore said. “He never applied. So, I felt it was time to change. It didn’t flow the right way in here.”

A father of five, Imperatore remembered taking his wife and children to the Thirsty Turtle, a Bernardsville establishment that offered food and drink that appealed to many palates. He thought of this place, now closed, when he conceived of changes he wanted to make at The Station.

“It was where you’d go to have something good to eat, and take the kids as well. A family-style restaurant.”

Infantolino said that her regulars had overwhelmingly approved of the big changes to their hangout.

“They love it,” she said.

Imperatore wants to add a few finishing touches to the inside walls of The Station. As he explained the decorations, Train 421, originating at Hoboken and terminating at Gladstone, was arriving at the Bernardsville station just before 3 PM on a Tuesday.

The walls of The Station will be hung with vintage photographs of the railroad station at Bernardsville, built in 1902, and other stations along the Gladstone Branch.

“We will give it more of a railroad station-type of a feel,” he said. “Old-time railroading, but without it being greasy.”

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