Look, Mom. No masks!
Cool breezes and a hot tourist market – no boarding pass required – are calling us Shore-ward like never before. You too?
That’s why we’ve ventured off the Main Line to compile our first SAVVY (at the) Shore Guide.
Researching this one was so rough, you’ll have to twist our arms to try this again next year.
Nah, who’re we kidding? We had so much fun, we just might have to relocate. SAVVY Shore, anyone?
Before we dive into the latest and greatest, here’s what locals are buzzing about over pancakes at Gilchrist’s, steamers at Smitty’s and Blue Moons at the Princeton.
Ocean Wind. Smells just fine but looks fishy to some. When it goes online in 2024, Jersey’s first offshore wind farm, dubbed Ocean Wind, will rise as high as two Liberty Place skyscrapers with blades as long as football fields and sit 15 miles offshore. But where some see a massive influx of green jobs and renewable energy, others worry about visual pollution and interference with fishing, marine life and migratory birds.
Sea Weed. The state has OK’d recreational cannabis but towns have until mid-August to decide whether they’ll allow it to be grown and sold in their borders. For now, Shore towns are mostly opting out. Dry-as-a-bone Ocean City has already passed a ban – no surprise there. But so has Ventnor, home to 13 liquor stores. Municipalities can opt back in any time but, in a weird NJ quirk, if a town agrees to sell the stuff, they can’t change their minds for five years.
Help DESPERATELY wanted. With COVID restrictions lifted and a strong spring already, Shore merchants expect a banner season – if only they can find staff. Some have been forced to cut operating hours. Some, like Morey’s Pier in Wildwood are paying $15/hour. Some might not open at all, and at least one – the Island Grill in Ocean City – has brought in a robot to beef up service.
Meanwhile, Congress Hall, a Cape May hotel, bought a second hotel to house staff. Shore businesses have long relied on overseas students but the Trump-era ban on J-1 visas was just lifted at the end of March and there’s a backlog of young people waiting for their applications to be processed. Compounding the problem: some locals who used to take second jobs in the summer are also staying home, in part due to extended unemployment checks, childcare needs and lingering virus fears.
Electronic bikes. All of a sudden, they’re everywhere. (In the market? Check out Pedego – an all e-bike shop in Ocean City.) But are motorized bikes a fun, eco-friendly way to tool around town or a silent hazard to pedestrians? Time will tell. Until then, don’t even think about pedaling yours on the boards.
The HOT HOT HOT real estate market. Few are selling and everybody’s buying so prices grow steeper by the day. One 9,000 sq. ft. oceanfront home in Avalon listed for a record-high $22.9 million and hasn’t even been built yet. Here’s the rendering. You decide: fish out of water or breath of fresh salt air?
Hoping to find a rental? Good luck. They’re just about all gone. Airbnb bookings are through the roof. In Sea Isle alone, online bookings soared from $111,000 to $4 million in 2020. Lord knows how high they’ll go this year.
Vaccines and Masks. Not really. The pandemic-weary Shore has mostly moved on. What did you expect? Almost no one wore a mask on the beach or street last summer. Interestingly, the most affluent towns have the most fully vaccinated citizens. In Atlantic County, Longport is tops with 82 percent of all ages fully vaxed while offshore Pleasantville is last with just 28 percent. In Cape May County, Avalon takes top honors with a whopping 94 percent fully vaccinated and Wildwood, with just 29 percent, gets the booby prize.
NOW, OUR NORTH-TO-SOUTH, TOWN-BY-TOWN RUNDOWN:
Not a gambler? Take your chances at the new Lucky Snake arcade at the Showboat instead. It’s the largest arcade on the East Coast and the latest big idea from developer and former Gladwynite Bart Blatstein, who’s turning the former casino hotel into a family-friendly, year-round resort.
The Snake’s got the hottest new virtual reality games and the world’s largest crane and Pac-Man games, along with classics like skee ball and pinball. For bigger kids, there’s also a sports bar, a boxing ring, a speakeasy and live shows.
Blatstein also got the greenlight to build a giant waterpark with retractable roof in the adjacent parking lot.
Tennessee Ave. continues to cement its rep as a hipster heaven.
The trendy Tennessee Ave. Beer Hall (above) now sells $5 beers, bloodies and breakfast sandwiches from 10 a.m. to noon Saturdays and Sundays.
After an award-winning Beer Hall burger and local draft, slide over to AC’s new chocolate bar, Bar 32, a trippy, straight-outta-Woodstock spot for decadent desserts, single-origin cacao bean confections and hand-crafted chocolate cocktails.
No promises but it just might be easier to snag a reservation at the hush-hush hideaway, Chef Vola’s, this summer, now that the Espositos have expanded seating upstairs. This former speakeasy-turned-BYOB still has no signs, an unlisted number, a password-protected website and a bone-in Veal Parm that’s the size of a horseshoe crab. Come for the Italian classics, stay for the people watching – Beyoncé and Jay Z, Sly Stallone and Sinatra have all dined here.
Hey, hey, they’re the Monkees. Two surviving members of the (no longer) young generation still have something to say. And sing. Catch the iconic band’s farewell tour with Micky Dolenz and Mike Nesmith headlining October 23 at AC’s Ocean Resort, which has re-emerged nicely from its, uh, Revel-ry.
Downbeach (Ventnor, Margate, Longport)
In Ventnor, the marquee is finally lit up at Ventnor Square Theatre, a gorgeous Art Deco rescue of the shabby-but-not-chic 1930’s era Ventnor Twin.
Enjoy high-tech screens, sounds and creature comforts amid Prohibition-era décor and Ventnor memorabilia. Whet your whistle at Nucky’s Burger Bar and Speakeasy on site. Reserved seating only. Order tickets online. (Cruella with Emma Stone starts Friday. Wicked fun.)
Another nifty newcomer in the works: Ventnor Memory Garden which sounds like a cemetery but will be very much alive when it opens near the AC border.
Privately conceived and funded as a pocket park, it combines four infill lots. Besides beautifying the area, the park was created to preserve open space, showcase native plants, practice conservation and engage the community. Look for a a gazebo for special events, a central Splash Pad, a native plant garden, a wheelchair-accessible garden, a shed and a flagpole. Lovely.
Ahoy there, Shore birds who miss their Main Line aestheticians in summer. Ula, “the Shore’s first luxury facial boutique” – or so they say – has opened next to Santucci’s Original Square Pizza. Ula offers free consults and revitalizes skin with a huge array of customized hydrafacials and “Power Glow” Peels.
In Margate, the big buzz is by the bay, where a supersized Lamberti’s Restaurant at Sunset Marina (below) is going up at the site of its more humble forbearer.
“Looks like Noah’s Ark landed on Amherst Ave. Real classy!” writes one of many appalled locals. Others can’t wait and are getting their sunset fixes at the other Lamberti’s that overlooks Seaview Harbor marina near Longport.
A new promenade, aka boardwalk, is being built along the Margate bayfront. So is a 6,800-sq. ft. Island Aqua Park for the kiddos.
Also making waves: a plan to make adjacent Amherst Ave. one way, dumping Margate night clubbers and diners onto sleepy Longport roads.
Officials also plan to put Atlantic Ave. in Ventnor and Margate on a “road diet” – slimming it to one lane in each direction with a turning lane in center and wider bike lanes on the sides. Naturally, some motorists would rather see the roadway stay pleasantly plump.
Except for the skirmish over Amherst Ave. going one way, there’s nothing much to report in tony Longport. Which is precisely how locals like it in this posh enclave with just two restaurants, a real estate office and a couple churches.
Ocean City/Somer’s Point
Ocean City’s south-enders have been somersaulting in the sand over news that Aneu is heading their way. The Paoli-based juicery/takeout market/catering kitchen opens its first shore spot Memorial Day weekend. It’s in the big gray house at the corner of 55th and West Ave. (below).
Owner Meridith Coyle is betting – and we think wisely – that instead of heading off-island for dinner, folks in this famously dry town would just as soon eat in with friends so they can pop a cork or two. Plus, after all the cooking we did last year, does anyone really want to cook this summer? Look for Aneu’s signature comfort foods with a healthy twist, including salads, juices, energy bites, dinner-party and beach-worthy fare.
No surprise: OC’s signature events are back and that includes one of the biggest excuses to party on the planet – Night in Venice on July 24. The theme of this year’s boat parade is “Honoring Our Heroes” so start those creative wheels turning. Also returning to “America’s Greatest Family Resort”: Fireworks on the Fourth and the famous Baby Parade on the boardwalk August 12.
Two endangered boardwalk amusement piers are back in business. Playland’s Castaway Cove, OC’s oldest amusement park, has been furiously rebuilding after a 4-alarm fire in January.
One apparent casualty: the beloved pirate ship. One new ride: The Rock ‘n Roll Express.
And Gillian’s Wonderland Pier is open, despite the owners’ financial woes. The Pier is run by town royalty. Not Grace Kelly, OC’s most famous vacationer, but Mayor Jay Gillian and his wife, Michele, who heads the OC Chamber of Congress. The couple reportedly defaulted on $8 million in Wonderland loans due to the pandemic. The Gillians say they’ve found new financing and the pier won’t be sold at a sheriff’s auction.
The tiki craze has gone seaborne. Charter boats with thatched-roof bars, sound systems, coolers, cups and a captain – to keep things shipshape and on course – are now cruising the back bays. You just bring the booze and buddies. Pau Hana (@ocnjtikiboat) operates in Ocean City (below).
Cruisin Tikis South Jersey runs boats out of Sea Isle City and Margate.
OC isn’t just Johnson’s Popcorn and Mack & Manco anymore. (Sorry, having a hard time calling this pizza staple by its new name, Manco & Manco). Trendier spots are ever-so-slowly infiltrating the boardwalk and the downtown shopping district. A few notables:
Ultra hip Dry Island at 11th and Asbury sells “common goods for the common good.”
We beg to differ. There’s nothing common about the supercool graphic hoodies, tees, caps designed in house that play off OC’s 102-year-long prohibition on alcohol.
Company founder is Eric Plyler, who also runs a graphic design/branding business out of Dry Island. Plyler tells us he’s a craft-beer guy but appreciates the town’s dryness and wants to celebrate it. Works for us.
Capella’s Oil & Vinegars, near Dry Island, is a charming, gourmet tasting room/gift shop that left Northfield for the extra foot traffic of Asbury Avenue last year.
COVID slowed the shop’s first season but affable owner Debbie Capella expects to rebound nicely this summer. Do enjoy a taste before you buy. We went nuts for the basil olive oil paired with peach balsamic.
It’s the first full summer for Gail’s Salad Co. on 8th St., a few blocks off the boards.
On Gail’s menu: locally sourced salads including vegan and plant-based options. Unlike most salad spots, all dressings are homemade by an owner’s mother and are available by the bottle. Gail’s Salads are also sold at Manco & Manco Pizza in OC and Somer’s Point.
California-cool Peace of Wood just moved to 345 West Ave. in May. An all-local art gallery/surf-and-skate shop that offers painting classes and parties for all ages, courtesy of co-founder Kristina Young. Check out work by local artists and surfboards crafted by local shapers at this kumbaya collective that shares “a little west coast love.”
Bungalow Bowls dishes up healthy bowls (Acai, Pitaya, Green, Ocean, Oatmeal) and smoothies at walk-up counters at 816 Boardwalk and 10th and Asbury. Count on a line.
Off-the-beaten-path Somer’s Point Brewing Co. just added a pint-sized beer garden (below right).
Locals flock to this former ice shop for well-crafted beers with well-crafted names like Flake News (an oat-flaked New England-style IPA) and Big Nose Blonde, a nod to big-beaked town father Richard Somers.
No food is sold but you can bring your own. Or support a local restaurant and have your meal delivered.
Owners are six engineers – John Dinofrio, Ed Siegel, Deepak Chauhan, Mike Prata, Kevin Szgala and Bob Biedrzycki – who built the brewery with their own 12 hands. “We’re doing fantastic,” Donofrio tells SAVVY.
With boogie boards and beach chairs shaping up to be this summer’s toilet paper, the new Obie’s Beach Hut seems prescient. Named for owner Drew Reilly’s yellow lab, Obie’s will rent sand chairs, umbrellas, beach carts, wheelchairs, metal detectors and games and sell seasonal sundries.
Sammi “Sweetheart” Giancola of Jersey Shore TV fame will take her popular online boutique, Sweetheart Styles, to the boards this summer.
Sweetheart Coast, at 1356 Boardwalk, will sell clothes, accessories, gifts and home décor. Seems sweet Sammi has been visiting – and loving – OC since childhood.
Newtown Square-based Capt’n Chucky’s Crab Cake Co. has a new outpost in Ocean City at 210 E. 10th Street.
Ron Jon’s Surf Shop will reportedly open at 8th & Asbury in September.
Casting about for rainy day fun? Here’s a new one on us: Cornhole Craze in the Somers Point Plaza. With ten lanes and 8,000 square feet, it’s one of the largest indoor cornhole facilities in the country and the first in New Jersey. They also host cornhole leagues and competitions. Really.
Sea Isle City/Strathmere
Smile … You’re in Sea Isle,” said an upbeat Mayor Leonard Desiderio in his latest Mayor’s Message. Why smile? Well, for starters, the Skimmer Weekend Antique Auto Show returns on Father’s Day, Saturday night concerts are back at Excursion Park Band Shell, and Fourth of July fireworks are on the calendar. Plus, new pickleball courts were built at Municipal Marina and there are new kayak racks at Dealy Field.
“I think [Summer 2021] will be the equivalent of two summers wrapped up in one,” says Desiderio. One sign of a blockbuster summer on the horizon: Sea Isle’s beach tag sales are about double what they were last year at this time. A few other tidbits around town:
Don’t hold your breath waiting for a better bridge from Sea Isle to Avalon. Officials still need to secure state and federal funding to replace the 81-year-old Townsends Inlet Bridge. A new bridge wouldn’t open until 2029 at the earliest.
Boaters can pull up to the Deauville Inn in style, thanks to new boat slips at this enduring Strathmere landmark (below). Since he took over in late 2019, Tim Fox has extended the waterfront patio bar 50 feet, added a beach bar, turned the interior bar into a pub, and snazzed up the interior décor. Fox has reportedly invested $4 million to keep all 240 employees afloat during the pandemic.
Sea Isle just christened the Jim Iannone Fishing Pier and Kayak Launch next to Dealy Field. There’s also a covered pavilion for soaking in those gorgeous Sea Isle sunsets.
Loved that Summer Salt popup at Isabel’s Bakery & Café?
You’re in luck.
Summer Salt is moving to a permanent home, this time at the beach. Chicken farmer Heather Sedlacek and her chef/husband Connor Dore have gutted the old Avalon Pizzeria/Beaches Eatery (below), transforming it into a beachfront farm-to-table dinner house and daytime ‘boardwalk provisions’ market.
“It’s the only ocean-view dining south of the Windrift on 83rd Street,” Connor Dore tells SAVVY.
The couple loved their time at Isabel’s but “it’s really tough to build and take apart a restaurant each night,” Dore says. “I was a chef without a building.” Heather will continue to serve as GM.
According to Dore, Summer Salt will highlight the real tastes of Jersey – fresh corn, tomatoes, local scallops, clams, fish – instead of the usual pizza and pasta. Dore’s food philosophy was formed during his years working on organic farms in England: elegant, unfussy and understated.
After a few weekends of practice on friends and family, Summer Salt BYOB, at 29th and the beach, opens to the public on or around Friday, June 10.
Meanwhile, Seven-mile Island’s new BYOB, Il Posto Ristorante, has been packing them in since early spring. The former home of Blufish Designs (which moved to 2021 Dune Drive), the storefront at 24th and Dune sat empty last summer.
Il Posto serves classic Italian fare but, interestingly, the owners hail from Albania and executive chef Tony Gonzalez is Ecuadoran. It’s the same trio behind La Fenestre and A Modo Mio in Sea Isle. Two reasons to go: the spacious covered patio and the free arugula pesto served with rustic bread. Nice touch.
The Circle Tavern, casual sidekick to the Princeton Bar & Grill, just spiffed up its décor. Count on reliable pub fare, live music and televised sports, plus a nice side patio.
Preppie heaven Vineyard Vines just opened May 21 at 2621 Dune Drive at the former Kudo’s Grill.
And right next door, Margui Walters Adzick will christen her first Addison Bay boutique this Saturday, May 27, 10 to noon. (Lite brunch and gift-with-purchase for first 50 comers.)
Philly-based Addison Bay sells “active fashions” – colorful workout and sportswear for “girls on the go.” (Girls of all ages, actually.)
“The ‘Bay’ in Addison Bay came from swimming in the bay on 7th Street in Avalon, invoking that active lifestyle,” Adzick tells SAVVY. She’s been summering in Avalon her whole life and tells us it’s “the definition of my happy place. .. We’ve shipped to all 50 states but our roots are, and always will be, on the seven-mile island.”
(For the record, “Addison” refers to the family’s current home on charming Addison Street in Philly.)
Everyone’s buzzing about the four new college grads turning the former rooftop restaurant, Chill, into Off the Hook Rooftop Market and Grill.
Liam Santry, who spent the last three summers as a lifeguard in Avalon, says he, Cade Zophy, Gavin Kenny and Alex Lissette (of the Utz family) were all Avalon buddies who hated the idea of scattering to “real” jobs after graduation.
Each had experience working summers in hotels, restaurants or fish markets, so when the “opportunity presented itself” on 96th Street, “we hopped on it,” Santry tells SAVVY. “There’s no other legit, open-air rooftop restaurants down here.”
They took over the lease in February and have been working on the place ever since.
The vibe will be modern casual and the menu will highlight fresh, local fish and produce. Too many shore spots “just serve slightly elevated bar food,” Santry says. “A lot of it tastes the same and nothing stands out too much.” Avalon Seafood’s Kyle Mattera is coming over as chef.
According to Santry, Off the Hook should open in the first part of June as a family-friendly BYOB with live music and an ultra-fresh seafood market.
Tongues – and tails – are wagging about the new Salty Paws at 276 96th Street, “the first doggie ice cream shop in New Jersey.”
Dogs or, more likely, their humans can choose one of eight lactose-free ice cream flavors like bacon, banana and cheddar and seven toppings and one of seven toppings including dehydrated sweet potato, steak bits and peanut butter yogurt chips. One scoop is $5; toppings are $1 extra.
Fido can also dig into the shop’s assorted dog bones, cookies and donuts – all are sugar-free and made with pooch-safe ingredients. Dogs have been known to paw up to the bar and indulge in “Irish Whiskery” and “Pawtron” – they’re cookies, but who’s counting?
Stone Harbor is the third franchise location for Salty Paws and the first owned by Donna Kokol.
Two other Stone Harbor newcomers of note. Toastique, a gourmet toast, cold-pressed juice and bowl bar that serves La Colombe coffee, opened May 3 at 280 96th Street.
And a third outpost of Birdcage, a boho, beach-inspired boutique opened in mid March, also on 96th. Other Birdcages are in Ocean City and Sea Isle.
An Anthropologie popup opens next to the spa at the chichi Reeds at Shelter Haven on Friday, May 28 and will operate through Labor Day. It’s the Philly-based brand’s first hotel popup and will sell summer dresses, swimwear, accessories and beauty products.
Oh, and Fox 29 broadcaster Karen Hepp is leading beachfront yoga Saturday and Sunday mornings at 9 a.m. at 82nd and the Beach, June 12 through Labor Day. Follow her on IG for updates: @pureponyyoga.com.
Now in its second season, Lazy Bass Bayside Bar & Grill is a must-go.
Pull up to this rustic hideaway at Grassy Sound Marina in North Wildwood in your boat or car, sink your toes in the sand or find a table on the boardwalk and laze the day away. Enjoy live music nightly in season and high-quality food trucks most days and nights.
It’s not new but we daresay nothing says the Shore like Hooked Up Seafood, 1044 W. Rio Grande Ave., a family-owned spot where Jersey Fresh fish are caught, sold and devoured in the same day.
Grab a picnic table and BYOB or tote a fresh catch home. Motor in on your boat or paddle in on your kayak but do call 522-CRAB first so they’re ready for you. Boat-to-table fare includes dayboat scallops, indigenous blue crab claws, littlenecks, and fresh fish like the blackened John Dory below. So good.
Wayne and Malvern fashion boutique Louella just added a fourth outpost at 315 Ocean St., replacing Riptide East in Washington Commons. It’s the second Louella at the Shore after Avalon.
What’s in store? “A mix of beachy chic boho (think tiered ruffle dresses in chambray and soft pink) and modern resort with a nod to The Preppy Handbook,” says owner Maria Delany, who so loves the Shore that she splits her time between homes in Wayne and Avalon year round.
Prices are moderate and sizes range from juniors to missy. Delany has also beefed up her beach-themed gift selection with such goodies as Avalon and Cape May nautical map trays and Jersey-made Beach Badgers for beach tags. For now, Louella Cape May is open Thursday to Sunday, and yes, they’re hiring!
If you’re shopping at Louella, try its neighbor, the newest George’s Place, for a quick brunch, lunch and dinner. It’s the Greek-influenced BYOB’s third location. Locals have long loved George’s, but a Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives five-star rating in Season 10 really put it on the map.
Another Cape May newbie: Revolution Rail, a unique, family-friendly pedal-powered adventure along old rail lines, the first of its kind in South Jersey.
Created in partnership with Cape May Seashore Lines, Revolution Rail is a four-mile jaunt in a double ($43/pp) or quad “railbike.”($37/pp). Take in the salt marshes, wildflowers, migrating birds and butterflies in the Garrett Family Preserve. Reserve online.
Running on empty? Fill ’er up with live music, crafty cocktails, local drafts and seriously solid food (Thai and otherwise) at Exit Zero Filling Station. You gotta have vision to turn a roadside gas station into a restaurant, bar, publishing company and nifty gift shop.
It’s first-come, first served at this trendsetter, but if you want to dine in one of the airstream trailers parked on site, you have to call first. Here’s a peek inside one. Worth it, right?
Sure, you can stay at one of Cape May’s charming Victorians but for a stay to remember in “America’s Original Seaside Town,” try the Lokal Hotel, a two-year old micro-resort.
Across from the beach and in the middle of everything, the Lokal has eight mod-styled studio and 2-bedroom apartment suites, a 45-ft.-long heated saltwater pool with a built-in drinking bench along one long side, an outdoor kitchen and a landscaped lounge area with fire pits.
Each suite has its own outdoor space and is “shoppable” – take anything you like and it’s added to your bill.
You should have plenty of room in your trunk to cart those room purchases home. The Lokal supplies guests with Yeti coolers, tumblers, ice packs, tote bags filled with Turkish towels, pool games and free bikes. Let the shoobies pack heavy. The Lokal lets you live, and pack, like a local.
Hope you enjoyed our first SAVVY Shore Guide. Did we miss a hot new spot or hidden wonder? Post a comment so we can all hear about it! (Apologies to those who visit shore points north or the Delaware beaches. Some day.)
We brought this inaugural edition to you ad-free – a little Happy Summer treat from SAVVY – but next time, alas, we have to pay the bills. Contact [email protected] to sponsor or advertise in our 2022 SAVVY Shore Guide.
And finally, in a few days we will return to our our regularly scheduled program in our usual stomping grounds: a fresh, new SAVVY Main Line.
Great edition about the Shore!
Caroline O'Halloran says
Thanks. We had a BLAST checking out so many fun spots!!!
Really great edition! Just an FYI- it’s Congress Hall not the Congress Hotel
Caroline O'Halloran says
Right you are! Correction made!
Harriet L Beaudet says
Excellent!! Excellent job! Please make this an annual issue! Lots of great info here!! Thank you!
Caroline O'Halloran says
Well, folks seem to love it so a 2022 SAVVY Shore edition is a very good bet! Thanks for the feedback!
Caroline O'Halloran says
Will do! Perfect excuse to scope out the latest and greatest at the Shore!
This is so helpful! Thanks a million!!
Caroline O'Halloran says
Liz Tankel says
This is the most comprehensive shore guide that I have ever seen. Great job!
Caroline O'Halloran says
thank you, Liz! We had so much fun working on it!
Emely Karandy says
Well-done, Savvy! Best of luck to the newbies