The changing face of Coney Island

Cha-Cha owner to open amusement park, nightclub

The Brooklyn Paper
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Call it Cha-Cha’s revenge.

John “Cha-Cha” Ciarcia, a honky-tonk bar owner who was booted from the Boardwalk in the city’s quest to bring more upscale businesses to Coney Island is returning to the People’s Playground this summer with a new watering hole, nightclub, and a new amusement park.

“This is my comeback,” Ciarcia said. “They threw me off the Boardwalk but they can’t kick me out of Coney Island.”

Ciarcia has already opened Cha-Cha’s Coney Island Seafood Bar and Pizzeria on Surf Avenue and plans to open Club Atlantis and Cha-Cha’s Steeplechase-Fun Place on Stillwell Avenue between Surf Avenue and the Boardwalk next week. The Steeplechase-Fun Place which will offer a kiddie park and side show, he said.

The Coney Island businessman says the 15 to 20 rides — which will include the MegaWhirl, a new spinning bumper car-style ride — will offer visitors to the People’s Playground a more authentic experience.

“I want to make it affordable for families that belong in Coney Island,” said Ciarcia, who closed Cha-Cha’s Bar last November after auctioning off its contents. “My park won’t be a rich South Beach extravaganza like the one the city wants to turn Coney Island into.”

Entrance to the park will be free, and rides will cost $3 to $5, Ciarcia said.

The prices will be on par with Central Amusements’s two-year-old Luna Park, which sells tickets on swipe cards and charges between $3 and $6 for rides. It will be cheaper than the Scream Zone, which charges between $7 and $25 for amusements.

Like Luna Park, Ciarcia’s fun zone will open on Memorial Day and close on Halloween.

Cha-Cha’s, a beloved watering hole known for its live music and gritty old school Coney Island feel, was a member of the “Boardwalk Eight” — businesses that fought to stay open after Central Amusements, the company the city picked to handle its properties, petitioned to boot them from the iconic walkway.

Ruby’s Bar and Paul’s Daughter were allowed to return, but Cha-Cha’s and four other shops were evicted last year.

Ciarcia thumbed his nose at the slap in the face by opening a restaurant on Surf Avenue. He then went to Coney Island’s other major landlord — developer Joe Sitt — and inked a deal to turn one of his empty lots into the fun zone.

Reach reporter Daniel Bush at or by calling (718) 260-8310. Follow him at
Updated 5:33 pm, July 9, 2018
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