Ivy raises the bar in Dewey

Edgy decor and tiny plates define Dewey’s latest nite spot. BY BOB YESBEK PHOTOS
May 22, 2012

First it was Coconuts. Then Suds. Then Venus on the Half Shell. But this prime Dewey Beach location - with its private, sandy shore and unobstructed view of Rehoboth Bay - always seemed to deserve more. Well, Executive Chef Pete McMahon, part owner John Snow and Highway One Limited Partnership are giving that venerable building a chance to be all that it can be. And what it’s going to be is Ivy.

First impressions count, and these guys certainly know how to put on a show (after all, the business of eating is mostly theater). For years, Venus’ bar patrons gazed at a blank wall, with their backs to the sparkling bay. That never seemed to make any sense. The huge rectangular bar has been moved across the room to face the little beach and the water. Wilmington mixologist Tom Luhr will be manning the blenders, measuring the potables and decanting Ivy’s signature potions.

A massive dance floor, complete with state-of-the-art lighting and built-in speakers, occupies the space between the bar and elevated VIP areas. Low walls and floor-to-ceiling draperies surround this prime seating decked out with huge sectional sofas and tables to match. My first impression? “Is this Dewey Beach in Delaware, or South Beach in Miami?”

The attention-grabber that ties it all together is thousands of snow-white books filling three rows of snow-white shelves that line the perimeter of the room. Big books, small books, fat ones and skinny ones reflect the vivid colors of adjacent LED lighting. The system can be programmed to bathe the shelves in soft white for wedding receptions, gently fade through the primary colors during dinner, or pulse rhythmically as dancers do the same below.

The hi-tech doesn’t end there. Servers take orders with iPhones, so tickets are instantly transmitted to the bar or kitchen. The phones are equipped with credit card swipers, so all the paperwork happens at the table in real time. Convenient for the guest, and expeditious for the restaurant. Everybody wins.

There’s no such thing as a free lunch, and it’s no different at Ivy. The cover charge will be between $10 and $20, depending on the night and the season. There is no defined dress code as such (ripped jeans can set you back a couple of hundred bucks nowadays), but the big guys blocking the doors will know if you need to be sent home. The silver lining on the cover charge is an innovative and inexpensive menu. Ivy takes small plates down a notch with minute plates. (Minute, as in “extremely small.”)

Sure, you can get three cute little sliders downtown for around 10 bucks. But what if you spent most of the afternoon shoehorning yourself into those $200 jeans, and anything bigger than a single slider will cut off the circulation to your legs? Or you don’t want to be spotted in that VIP area clutching a barrel of fries? Ivy makes it easy. One Kobe beef slider, or a few truffled fries with blue cheese will set you back only $3. An avocado and Ahi taco with a little wakame salad is $4.50. There are 13 others, all served on white, Asianesque plates and bowls. If you’re there with a crowd, or those jeans actually do fit you, you can order the Grand Poobah Tasting (yup, that’s what they call it). G. Poobah buys all 16 for around $50.

Ivy will come to life on Memorial Day weekend with renowned DJ Jazzy Jeff overseeing the dance floor. Dewey Beach isn’t South Beach, and  Pete and John are the first to admit that Ivy “isn’t for everybody.” But once you see it, you might be willing to kick off your flip-flops, fork over the cover and invoke the Grand Poobah.

  • So many restaurants, so little time! Food writer Bob Yesbek gives readers a sneak peek behind the scenes, exposing the inner workings of the local culinary industry, from the farm to the table and everything in between. He can be reached at

    Masthead photo by Grant Gursky. Used with permission from Coastal Style Magazine.