This was not the first time Sugar Barge had been a restaurant. The original sugar barge, christened the MV Mokulii, was originally purchased by the Joseph family, moored at Bethel Island and operated as a snack bar. In 1969, entrepreneurs Paul Keeney, Lenny Gomes and Harry Norager gave the barge a facelift and renamed it the Sugar Barge Restaurant and Lounge. In addition to its unique name, the Sugar Barge was also known for its failing bilge pump. When the pump would fail, customers on the lower deck would be invited for complimentary drinks on the top deck to hide the fact that the barge was taking on water. The old sugar barge sank twice and was hauled away to Holland Tract, where it now rests.
The current Sugar Barge waterfront building now stands where the previous Sugar Barge was previously moored. During the summer months, the top deck of the building operates as a successful open-air bar and grill featuring a lounge area overlooking the waterfront.
Unfortunately, the all-season Sugar Barge Restaurant in the downstairs area did not fare as well. After three years, the family decided to close it. Over the next decade, a string of restaurant tenants met a similar fate. Last year, the family made the decision to change course and took the opportunity to convert the former restaurant into a banquet and event facility.
The newly remodeled event center spans the entire lower level of the waterfront building. Facility rental includes the entire downstairs area which encompasses the dining room, kitchen area and bar area. Among the most striking features of the bar and event areas are the huge glass windows that offer unobstructed views of the marina below and Franks Tract. The event center can seat up to 150 people, depending on seating configuration.
Riggs noted that the event center at Sugar Barge is not trying to compete for big events such as weddings. “But there’s a smaller market out there – for class reunions and 50th wedding anniversaries and stuff like that – this facility would work really well for,” said Riggs, noting that the facility can host corporate meetings and seminars as well.
“This is something very unique,” said Riggs’ daughter Tracy Venable, a manager at the Sugar Barge resort, as she commented on the event center’s unique location. She noted that the Delta is central to the life of the community, and an event center on the Delta reflects the importance the waterway. “I think it adds a lot of value to the community,” added Venable.
Sugar Barge RV Resort and Marina is located at 1440 Sugar Barge Road in Bethel Island. The restaurant is now open Fridays from 2 to 7 p.m.; Saturdays and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. The banquet and event center will officially open in mid-July. For more information on booking an event, call 800-799-4100.