Heading North(ish) to North Ocean City, Maryland
By Bob Tagert
Beach days are the best days. We’re talking about those relaxing dog days of summer spent by the water when the world seems to fall away. Just the act of spreading out your towel and laying in the sun! Or that refreshing, cold bite of the water as you dip in for the first time! Throw some beach snacks and summer books in your bags (July OTC “Last Word”) and you’re ready to go.
With this thought in mind we decided to return to Ocean City, Maryland this month. With the air temps reaching record highs, the cool Atlantic Ocean seemed like a reasonable destination. Having grown up in this area, I am very familiar with Ocean City trips. Back in the 60’s and 70’s it was fast becoming a popular destination to escape from the city. However, back in those days there was only one Bay Bridge and the traffic backups were legendary. On occasion the backups would stretch for miles. Impromptu parties enroute would pop up with frustrated beach goers.
In 1969 the construction of the new parallel span began and was completed on June 28, 1973. How is that for good timing at the beginning of summer? With the new bridge and the widening of Route 50, the backups were soon a distant memory and the way to the Atlantic and her sandy beaches were wide open.
Back in those days the beach destinations consisted of Ocean City in Maryland and Rehoboth, Dewey, Bethany and Fenwick Island in Delaware. Back then there were miles and miles of dunes, grasses and empty beaches. In fact, back then, the commercial district of Ocean City ended at 60th street. North of that was dunes, blue sky, no life guards and surfers looking for “the” wave. That is when my memories began…I was 18.
Today Ocean City has expanded to the Delaware border at Fenwick Island. Fenwick has expanded as well, but not so robustly and remains more a community of houses and dunes to the north. Bethany Beach boasts huge high rises that define the place with more homes spreading inland. Rehoboth and Dewey have grown as well. Each of these towns are different while still the same and each has their own vibe.
We stayed with a friend at her condo on 143rd street in North Ocean city…about three blocks from the Delaware line. Everything is now built up from the Delaware line to the aforementioned 60th street, except for a few miles of protected shore line in Delaware.
At age 76, my perspective has changed some. Instead of a mad dash to the shore line upon arrival, we opted to join our hostess and friend at the Jungle Bar. It is an expansive outdoor bar on a huge concrete patio featuring a plethora of adult beverages and food choices. The best part was the live music! We were lucky enough to be there when the band “Hot Sauce” was playing. These guys are very good. They bill themselves as playing “multi-generational popular music with a unique spicy flair.” If you are a Herb Alpert and Tijuana Brass fan, you have hit the jackpot! However the main attraction were the cold beverages served to us by Andrew. He is a delightful and attentive server and clearly has some smarts as he is studying micro-biology at university.
For dinner we opted for pizza at Ponzetti’s. This is truly a “local” place that has been housed in a strip mall since 1962. It covers all the bases with pizza, sandwiches, a classic bar and flat screen TV’s for local sport fans. This is a part of beach life I missed in my early years. Then it was all about the big names and party style. What I found out on this trip was how many of these cool spots that are owned and operated by locals as well.
On Friday I went for an early lunch at Harpoon Hanna’s on the canal in north Ocean City. What started out as a local restaurant many years ago, it has grown into one of the most popular destinations in the area. They have added an outdoor Tiki Bar and has some of the best food around. That evening I stayed home while Lani and Nancy went to the Skye Bar & Grille – an upscale restaurant that sits three stories high with an open roof and a bird’s eye view of the coast – to meet pals and listen to another very talented duo – “String Theory”.
On Saturday we finally made our way to the beach. It was a hot 88 degrees but had a 13 mph wind out of the southeast. As we made our way onto the beach we started searching for an empty patch of sand. All spots close to the surf were already taken so we ended up higher up the beach. After “setting up camp” we made our way to the water. With the wind out of the southeast the waves were pushed further up the beach. The beach had a pretty steep incline which helped speed up the receding waves, making standing in the surf a little tricky. I never seemed to have that problem back in the 70’s.
Even though the beach was crowded, standing there and looking out over the Atlantic Ocean, I was taken back in time by the sights and sounds of the ocean. At that moment, nothing had changed as I was carried back in time. This is why we go to the ocean. It is like an old friend we have not seen in a long while but always aware that it will be there waiting for my return.
After about three hours in the sun we went to another local restaurant with a fun/funky bar. Matteo’s Salsa Loco was the perfect place to cool off after time in the sun. We were greeted by the owner, Matt, who was also tending bar this particular day. We ordered three of the “#1 Margarita’s in the Nation” accompanied by the “#1” guacamole, salsa and chips. Not sure where the rating came from but we all agree that it was all #1 with us on this afternoon.
By now we were pretty tired so spent the rest of the night at the condo, enjoying cocktails, each other’s company, and singing old songs. “When the sun goes down we’ll be groovin’, When the sun goes down we’ll be feelin’ alright…”
The next morning we made it to Jimmy’s Kitchen for a very good breakfast. We arrived around 8 am – just before prime time – and were seated immediately, however, when we departed there was a line waiting. Get there early!
When we got back to the condo we figured it was a good day to stay in. Also, the threatening weather all week was finally going to show rain in the afternoon. The three of us just hunkered down on the deck and enjoyed mimosas while the rain kept time with the music.
With our bodies rested we went to Our Harvest Restaurant in Fenwick where our Old Town friend Martin Jenkins works as a bartender. Once again, what makes the beach special…memories and old friends. After a few expertly made cocktails and a light dinner, we headed back to the condo to pack up for our trip home the following morning.
While north Ocean City was the destination, there are a number of cool places to stop along the way whether you are coming or going. Our favorite “last stop” on the way home is The Jetty at Kent Narrows. There is always something fun going on here as well as ice cold beer and good eats.
August is a great month for a Road Trip and Ocean City is a great destination. Stay cool….
The Jungle Bar
9800 Coastal Highway
144th & Coastal Highway
39064 Harpoon Road
Skye Bar & Grille
6601 Coastal Highway
Matteo’s Salsa Loco
305 Coastal Highway
1300 Coastal Highway
1106 Coastal Highway