The thousands of Pub 199 fans who on social media bemoaned the Jan. 11 fire that destroyed the restaurant should be cheered by the recent arrival of dump trucks and fencing that announced that owner George Markou plans to rebuild.
A three-alarm electrical fire that was reported about 4:15 a.m. that Friday morning collapsed the roof and the floors. Six fire companies battled the blaze. Lost also in the fire was the extensive collection of stuffed game animals and animal heads that created the pub’s unique dining experience.
Markou said this week he plans to reopen by Memorial Day. He has hired an architect and been discussing his plans with Mount Arlington planning officials.
The fire at the pub on Howard Boulevard was not the only loss Markou has been addressing. Superstorm Sandy damaged properties he owns on the Jersey Shore and destroyed his cabin cruiser.
He said after viewing the damaged restaurant, after he had dealt with the other losses, he felt like a loser.
“But I’m a winner, not a loser,” Markou said.
He plans to rebuild the pub pretty much as it was, he said, in order to restore the casual dining atmosphere his patrons had come to expect.
Pub 199, which opened in 1989, was known as much for its relaxed setting and quality, reasonably priced seafood as for the collection of stuffed game animal head that hung on the walls.
Markou said he has been searching the Internet for some replacements but also plans to display photographs of his hunting trips when he shot many of the specimens.
“I have a lot a pride in my ability to run the pub,” he said. It has become part of the community and in a way represents an “old lake town” sensibility on Lake Hopatcong.
Markou emigrated from Greece to the United States in 1968 and slowly through hard work assembled his business career.
Mount Arlington Mayor Arthur Ondish said Markou is an example of the American Dream. He came to the United States as an immigrant with little to his name and built his businesses from scratch.
“He did a good job there,” Ondish said.
The fire was setback for the borough, he said.
“The pub is an important icon in Mount Arlington,” he said. “There are some people who discovered the borough because they visited the pub.”
Ondish said the borough will work with Markou to facilitate the reconstruction.
Markou said he has already applied for the necessary permits to rebuild.
The benefit, Ondish said, the restaurant will be built to modern codes, including sprinklers.
A 2007 dispute Markou had with the state Department of Environmental Protection that related to the operation of the pub’s waste disposal that tied into the borough’s sewer system was settled with the payment of a fine, DEP spokesman Lawrence Hajna said. He said the dispute should not impact Markou’s ability to reopen.
Jessica Murphy, president of the Lake Hopatcong Foundation, said when she woke up that morning and heard that the pub had burned down, “I couldn’t believe it.”
Murphy, who grew up in Mount Arlington, said the pub was there when Howard Boulevard was “a lot narrower and lot more winding. The pub grew larger as the road got bigger.”
More than just a place to eat, Murphy said, the pub was the place lake town residents went to celebrate graduations, engagements and other “milestone” events.
She said the rustic, relaxed atmosphere was a draw, and made any visit there, “always an experience.”
She was glad to hear that Markou planned to rebuild.
Markou said the fire was clearly a setback, but he had overcome troubles in the past.
“I’ll be back,” he said proudly.