This post was written in honor of Memorial Day, the unofficial kick-off to summer and most importantly, the first major weekend of shore season. Going “down the shore” for those of us who grew up in and around Philadelphia, is and always has been a way to escape to a relaxing paradise, replete with sand, sea, good food, good friends, family and a host of landmarks, attractions, restaurants and watering holes that offer just enough nostalgia to elevate even the most average places to must-visit/see status, and to propel the very good to levels of unimpeachable perfection. We all have places we take visitors who have never been to our little island (Absecon Island, home to Margate, Longport, Ventnor and Atlantic City), without fail…our favorites…you know, the ones we are most proud of, the ones that bring extra special smiles to our faces just thinking about in the freezing cold depths of winter.
There are many places down the shore that have reached pantheon status…regulars in Philadelphia Magazine’s “Best of the Shore” issues. The shore just wouldn’t be the same without them, they pre-date all of us (or at least seem to), everyone we know hits them regularly, or at least semi-regularly, and they define our summer experience…or help shape it. Even if we don’t go, or don’t go as often anymore, some of these places remain as important landmarks and just knowing they are there is comforting (and we definitely use them when giving others directions). Some of them aren’t even on Absecon Island, but they are close enough to become part of our shore world. In no particular order, these gems include the big three sub shops (Dino’s, Sack-o’s and The Whitehouse), Angelo’s Fairmont Tavern, Gillian’s Fun Deck, Smitty’s Clam Bar, Ventura’s Greenhouse, The Boardwalk (ours and the one in the OC), Robert’s Place, Frank S. Farley Rest Stop, The Dairy Bar, The Knife and Fork Inn, Downbeach Deli, Mentos, Chef Vola, Casel’s, Ozzie’s (despite a brief time in absentia), Storybook Land, Johnson’s Popcorn, Tony’s Baltimore Grill, Jo Jo’s, Little Saigon, Memories, The Point, The Tilton and Towne 16 Movie Theaters, Two Cents Plain, and of course Lucy.
But this is Memorial Day weekend, so this post is written to memorialize those old haunts down the shore that are no longer with us. Those forever emblazoned in our memories, sometimes even our hearts, but are no longer there. Seasonal places like beach towns make it difficult for some businesses to survive. For others, the skyrocketing real estate market created opportunities for developers to purchase our beloved places and explore new highest and best uses (in real estate speak). And some were destroyed by fire, changing tastes, greed, stupidity, hubris and bankruptcy. And a few on this list never deserved to line our shore landscape in the first place, but are notable nonetheless.
Without further ado, and in reverse order of significance, at least according to your humble author, a trip down the shore’s memory lane:
The Showboat: Look, it was all the way at the north end of AC…such a hike anyway. It was never the nicest casino, and architecturally was perhaps interesting in its own weird way, but losing it last year was nothing worth shedding a tear over. But the bowling alley was cool (remember that?), and provided some good times back in the day.
Pat’s Steaks: Notable only that the Philadelphia institution failed, and failed miserably, when opening an Atlantic City location.
Pantry Pride: There was another grocery store in Margate, for those who can remember that far back.
Lenny’s Hot Dog Stand: IDROS has faint memories of this place (it closed when IDROS was 5), but IDROS remembers sharing a dog with his dad here once upon a time. It would have been nice to have another option than pizza for late night grub, but with all the great junk food littering the shore, not too broken up over this loss.
Party Pak: Make way for the bigger and better Wawa. No real loss here.
Mojo: Not a lucky spot (more on this later), but a nice enough restaurant with pretty good food, and some decent live jazz on some weekend nights.
Captain Starn’s: Great restaurant overlooking the Absecon Inlet, and for those that rode their bikes or jogged or walked all the way to the northern end of the boardwalk back in the day, Starn’s was there…
Lou’s: A long-time Ventnor diner/kitchenette with killer milkshakes and a musty smell derived from both its hundred year old furnishings and an aging (read: aged) clientele.
Tivoli Pier: In the late 80s, the Trop, then called TropWorld, opened an amusement park which included a roller coaster (it was lame) and a Ferris Wheel (it resembled the big wheel in every casino that has the different denomination dollar bills on it) in an effort to mimic the Las Vegas trend of offering a “family friendly” experience. Alas, it closed in 1995, making way for the Trop’s new, and much better, entertainment area, The Quarter.
The Waterfront: There have been quite a few new brands to take over since it closed. Built with a shitload of wood and an expansive deck overlooking the bay, there was live music, boat drinks and pretty good food. Baia is the latest…Inlet before that.
Sailfish Café: Great beach town restaurant name. Lasted forever. Only ate there once.
Bubba Mac’s Shack – This short-lived BBQ and Blues joint in Somers Point wasn’t bad…but the real estate it sat on was worth more to developers.
Gilhooleys: Fun bar that had its day before your author’s time, but it did honor IDROS’ fake ID once upon a time. One of the updated bars along the famed Barbary Coast that foreshadowed a trend toward nicer establishments to please the well-heeled summer home owners that were slowly replacing the locals and college crowds, and the dive bars those crowds preferred. (Read this account of the Barbary Coast)
The Golden Nugget: Steve Wynn’s first foray into AC was the most easily accessible to us downbeachers. For a summer or two in the late 80s/early 90s, there was a summer stage on the beach in front of the Nugget, and every weekend we had the likes of Rod Stewart, Steve Miller, the Beach Boys and Don Henley setting the tone for those summer nights.
Land of Oz Amusement & Arcade Hall: Boarded up after a fire in 1981, this place was a little kid’s dream.
Omar’s: Late night at the pool tables at the first bar IDROS ever got into with fake ID. Let’s just say it wasn’t a very rigorous entry policy at the site that eventually gave way to Mojo.
The Taste: This ice cream, yogurt and dessert shop run by a crazy Aussie who seemed to be a character in an 80s movie, was ahead of its time and also up against some stiff competition in the Margate City ice cream scene.
Billy Ho’s: The pink Margate restaurant still stands, but unfortunately the name does not…and what a name. This is definitely your author’s brother-in-law’s favorite entry on this list.
The White Sands: Margate’s only hotel (motel?) that IDROS can remember…bought and converted to condo during the last real estate boom cycle.
The Islander: There have been quite a few restaurants to open and subsequently close in Seaview Harbor on the Longport Bridge…but this was the first, and IDROS worked there one crazy summer…
Ventnor Mini Golf/Ice Rink: Loved everything about that place…especially the open air architecture with a suspended roof. Bonus points to those who actually ice skated there. IDROS did.
The Crab Pot: Now Lamberti’s, Steve and Cookie’s first restaurant had better real estate and served breakfast. IDROS worked there as a bus boy a long time ago.
Jefferson Miniature Golf: IDROS still has two or three free game cards from this crappy but beloved course in Margate. A favorite hang-out for your author and his cousins.
Polo Bay: Tomatoes’ new spot (remember when Tomatoes was on Ventnor Avenue where Miyako sushi and hibachi restaurant is now?), the crowd was twenty years younger, on average, in its heyday.
Million Dollar Pier: A few of ACs amusement piers closed and re-opened over the years, but MDP was the one IDROS visited every summer as a child. When it burnt down, IDROS was very upset.
Michelli’s: Great pizza spot to soak up the booze when bar crawling along Amherst or Washington.
Ocean One: A mall built on a pier jutting into the Atlantic. A couple friends of mine worked there one summer. It was cool for a hot minute. The Pier repurposed it with some better, higher end shopping and a few of Philly’s finest restaurants. Now Blatstein will try to improve upon that.
Brigantine Castle: Scared the crap out of IDROS back in the day. But even scarier than the attraction itself is how many haunted houses have caught fire over the years and burnt down…many times injuring and even killing people inside them.
Fideli’s: Too many restaurants to count have opened and shut over the years (Fai’s, Cheeburger Cheeburger, Uncle Bill’s Pancake House, Dune, and so many more), but this old Italian stalwart had a very nice run.
Playboy Hotel & Casino: A number of gambling halls have come and gone over the years in AC, with four more shutting down just last year. But Heff’s black glass tower was one of the least gaudy looking monstrosities erected to take its patrons hard-earned money, and because IDROS was just hitting puberty when it opened, IDROS was a huge fan of the scantily clad bunnies that ran rampant throughout the building from day one. And everyone has to admit…that bunny logo at the top of the tower gleaming amid the growing neon glitz of the city was so much better than anything TRUMP.
Reds: A personal favorite of your author, combining a decent pool room with a disco and lounge that played primarily new wave and alternative music. Hated when it closed to make way for condos.
The Margate and Ventnor Twins: With summer traffic it can take a half hour to get to Tilton and forty five minutes to get to the Towne 16. Having two theaters on the island was priceless. Over the years IDROS saw ET, Stand By Me, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Bull Durham, Dirty Dancing, The Abyss, Beverly Hills Cop 2 and Terminator 2 and countless others at these theaters.
Maloney’s: A restaurant and four separate bars rolled into one. Many incredibly fun nights ended here…IDROS thinks.
Our Youth: How lucky were we all to have this place when we were young? How lucky are we to still have it now? While we can’t turn back the clock, our incredible memories remain…and new ones will be made with our own kiddos.
If you have other places you feel should be included in this list, please comment below.
As always, your author is grateful for all of his tens of loyal readers, and wishes you all a happy holiday and a terrific summer.
Hope to see you down the shore next month.
All the best,