Beachfront Bonita Springs restaurant reopens 14 months after Hurricane Ian

The long wait is finally over for Charlie Cibula.

Fourteen months after Hurricane Ian ravaged his family’s beachfront bar and restaurant, Doc’s Beach House reopened Friday, Dec. 1, to the delight of locals and visitors alike.

“I’m really happy to be here,” said Cibula, whose father bought Mr. B’s and opened Doc’s in 1987. “It took a long time to get back.”

It’s surprising the Bonita Beach landmark is back at all considering the damage it sustained on Sept. 28, 2022.

“We had 10-feet of water,” Cibula said. “It settled right below the floor (on the second level). Downstairs was completely destroyed. The walls busted out. We found our walk-in freezers three or four blocks away. Everything was gone.”

Walk up from the beach and right into the completely redone dining room at Doc's Beach House in Bonita Springs.
Walk up from the beach and right into the completely redone dining room at Doc's Beach House in Bonita Springs.

A few things were salvaged much to Cibula’s delight.

“We found our pizza stones — the original pizza stones — a couple blocks away the next day,” he said.

The pizza oven didn’t fare as well though.

“That was gone,” said Cibula’s cousin, Kyle, who runs the kitchen. “All the equipment was gone.”

“We knew we would get water inside, but not like that,” Charlie said. “We prepared 4,000 sandbags and built berms and blockades. Nothing was going to stop that water though.”

Upstairs, however, was a completely different story.

“It wasn’t touched,” Cibula said. “All the pictures were still on the walls. The mustard and ketchup bottles were still on the tables.”

Charlie Cibula oversees the day-to-day operations at his family-owned Doc's Beach House.
Charlie Cibula oversees the day-to-day operations at his family-owned Doc's Beach House.

While the floor was the only thing replaced upstairs, downstairs, again, was another story.

“It’s all new,” Cibula said. “But we tried to keep it really similar with the same layout. We worked with the historical society to keep the same vibe. It’s very Bonita and Chicago specific.”

The floors, ceiling and bar in the beach-level restaurant all are shiny and new except for the chairs which were stored upstairs before the storm. New dining room tables were built to match them.

The thatched roof over the front patio surprisingly remained intact.

The beachside tables (available first-come, first-served for takeout orders only), were buried in the sand after the storm, yet sustained minimal damage.

Chicago-style Italian beef with roasted sweet peppers and hot giardiniera on a Turano roll is a popular order at Doc's Beach House in Bonita Springs.
Chicago-style Italian beef with roasted sweet peppers and hot giardiniera on a Turano roll is a popular order at Doc's Beach House in Bonita Springs.

“We had to dig down to get them out,” Cibula said. “The sand helped protect them. We did replace the bases on some.”

Popular Italian Beef sandwiches, pizza return

Returning customers will be happy to hear the menu is primarily the same.

“It was such a big menu, we took off a few items,” Cibula said. “We want to nail what we do have and make sure we do it right.”

That includes the Chicago-style Italian beef with roasted sweet peppers, au jus and optional hot giardiniera on a Turano roll.

“That’s my baby,” Kyle said. “I make that in-house from scratch.”

Other than new flooring, the upstairs of Doc's Beach House was left untouched by Hurricane Ian.
Other than new flooring, the upstairs of Doc's Beach House was left untouched by Hurricane Ian.

Doc’s, which is cash-only, is also known for steamed Gulf shrimp, chicken wings, cheeseburgers, fish and shrimp tacos, grilled fish salad, breakfast and Chicago-style hot dogs. The pizza, available daily after 4 p.m., is a customer favorite too.

“The sauce, the dough is all from scratch,” Kyle said. “It’s Chicago-style, thin. It’s tavern pizza, square cut.”

Charlie moved down here from Chicago about 10 years ago and took over day-to-day operations three years later. His father owned sports bars in the city before opening Doc’s. A lot of the memorabilia on Doc's walls — a Chicago Bears fan hangout — came from his dad's bars.

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“When he first opened it, it was much smaller,” Charlie said. “They shucked their own oysters. It was a biker bar, a party spot on the beach.”

In the mid-1990s, Doc’s was remodeled and became more family-friendly.

After Ian hit, Doc’s was completely closed down until March 8.

“We had a food truck the day they opened the beaches,” Kyle said. “We had a tent and the food tables outside. It was a really limited menu with hot dogs, burgers.”

Onlookers survey the damage to Doc's Beach House on Bonita Beach on Thursday, Sept. 29, 2022, after Hurricane Ian.
Onlookers survey the damage to Doc's Beach House on Bonita Beach on Thursday, Sept. 29, 2022, after Hurricane Ian.

On Thanksgiving, the bar was open and customers were allowed inside.

“We really opened when we got our pizza back,” Charlie said. “Pizza and breakfast. That’s when we officially came back.”

Doc’s Beach House, 27908 Hickory Blvd., Bonita Springs; open 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily with breakfast served until 11 a.m.; limited valet parking is free; (239) 992-6444; docsbeachhouse.com

Robyn George is a food and dining writer for The Fort Myers News-Press. Send news to rhgeorge@gannett.com.

This article originally appeared on Fort Myers News-Press: Doc's Beach House reopens on Bonita Beach 14 months after Ian