The Floating Nightclub on the Cooper River

The floating nightclub on the Cooper River

This post is copied from, or based on, the writings of Rick Grenda in his Facebook Group, About South Jersey.

In 1930’s a well-known Camden professional basketball star, Roy Steele, went into the bar business. He first operated the Browning Lake Inn which was located on an old lake on the Little Timber Creek in Bellmawr. Then in 1933 he built Roy Steele’s Log Cabin & Barge Café along the banks of the Cooper River on Admiral Wilson Blvd in Camden. Log Cabin Bars & Restaurants were popular around this time and many where built throughout South Jersey. Roy’s however had an added feature.

He purchased an unused coal barge from the Delaware River called the Margaret E Bunting and had it towed to the site of his log cabin. There he converted the 180 ft. long vessel into a café/nightclub. The deck had seating for 400 with a dance floor and was completely covered with canvas. The wheelhouse was converted into a bar. There was also a bar & restaurant in the adjacent log cabin with a walkway leading to the barge.

It opened during the summer of 1933 but in the midst of the depression had trouble succeeding. The barge was difficult to maintain and the un-named hurricane of August 1933 caused significant damage. The city of Camden also questioned it legality and tax status. Then after a New Year’s Gala on January 1, 1934 the barge mysteriously sank. The log cabin operated for just a short time afterwards and later became an auto tire business. The top of the sunken barge remained visible to drivers along the boulevard for decades until it was removed in the 1950’s.

But Roy Steele was not done. In 1936 he opened Roy Steele’s bar on Broadway in Camden and that was a popular downtown watering hole for years. He also purchased an old bar on Bay Ave in Somers Point next door to Tony Marts. Roy remodeled the inside with a boat shaped bar and named it The Steele Inn but was known by many as the Ship Bar. This bar also was popular for decades.

Roy Steele’s four bar businesses are monuments to “Things that aren’t there anymore” as all are gone. The Browning Lake Inn site is now Rte. 295. The Log Cabin site is now part of the Gateway Park along Admiral Wilson Blvd. His bar on Broadway is now the Rand Transportation Center and the Somers Point Ship Bar was demolished years ago and is now a parking lot.


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