Recently, something happened to me on the Wildwood Boardwalk which until just a few years ago, would have been unthinkable. Or anyway, illegal. I drank a beer.
It was one of those hazy-hot-humid summer evenings, and the glass — sorry, chalice — of Stella Artois was lovely and cool and a nice companion to a plate of chilled you-peel-’em shrimp. Two of the four adults at our table had a beer, the kids all ate their dinners, and afterward everyone headed off toward the roller coasters.
Sounds startlingly . . . normal, right? But isn’t this “honky tonk” Wildwood, where everything’s tacky , and everyone’s half-naked, or with their pants half down their butt and wearing a T-shirt with a picture of, like, Elmo smoking a bong?
[I refer you here to Dan McQuade’s excellent exegesis on the 9 Types of Wildwood Boardwalk T-shirt.]
OK, there was plenty of tacky along the boards that night, and the requisite number of unfortunate wardrobe choices were being made by people of all ages. And as the hour got later, the number of teenagers increased, the music got a bit louder, and the boardwalk’s atmosphere turned a bit more adult, if certainly not more “mature.”
My point in all this: It’s been a few years now since beer, wine and liquor sales began on Wildwood’s storied boardwalk. In 2010, the city followed North Wildwood’s lead and began allowing booze sales at a few boardwalk locations, all on Morey’s Piers properties.
Contrary to the belief of some who opposed the moves, the boardwalk hasn’t turned into a place to stroll in off the beach, do Kamikaze shots and take advantage of dollar-draft drink specials. You still have to do that in the privacy of your own rental condo or at an off-boardwalk bar or club. Or better yet, in Sea Isle.
Wildwood’s Boardwalk booze just wasn’t designed that way, said Jack Morey, executive vice president of Morey’s Piers.
Everything about the experience at Jumbo’s, the Mariner’s Landing eatery where I drank that Stella, was carefully chosen to say responsible adult consumption, down to the yacht rock on the sound system. It could have been a restaurant at Downtown Disney or Universal’s CityWalk in Orlando, two places I had similar meals with my family this year.
That’s exactly the idea, Morey said.
I asked Morey if, overall, the move into boardwalk booze had been a success. Sales of beer, wine and liquor at the boardwalk locations aren’t designed to be a huge money-maker, he said, so the amount of sales isn’t the best gauge of success.
In this case, he said, the fact that it hasn’t turned the boardwalk into a place to get drunk and act stupid shows it was the right move. It’s about enhancing the dining experience, more than the drinking part. After all, there are plenty of places on the boardwalk to eat junk food, but fewer places to have a real meal. That’s what the sushi thing is about on Adventure Pier, near where artBOX installation has been making a name for itself this summer.
“We want to be a place for adults and kids,” Morey told me. “We’re not trying to make it an atmosphere for twenty-something kids.
The other day, the Inquirer’s terrific Melissa Dribben wrote about the effects of the ordinance barring baggy pants. The piece closed with a classic kicker quote from a young woman on the boardwalk:
“My pants are fine,” said his friend Kate, who declined to give her last name and who had no patience for discussing dress codes on the beach.
She just had one question. “Do you know a place where we can get a drink?”
And there you have it: The young would-be partier couldn’t even find a place to drink on the boardwalk. Not yet, anyway.
It’s likely there will be more booze on Wildwood’s boardwalk in the future, though of course there’s no guarantee it would forever remain under the Moreys’ careful corporate control.
Jack Morey said his family’s company will support, and propose, further changes to local laws to allow for more liquor licenses on the boardwalk, and may pursue partnerships to bring more dining options.
“It’s really critical to our survival. And not just our survival, but the entire boardwalk’s survival,” Morey said. The challenges are “what’s the right strategic formula, and how do we design it for the entire family.”
And about that whole baggy pants thing?
Despite that sign on the boardwalk, branded with the company logo and reminding people to pull up their pants, Morey said such laws are, well, not really his style. To him, the boardwalk is about the mix of tacky and tasteful. It’s about being romantic, fun, quirky, energetic, the place where people of various ages, ethnicities and income levels mix, and the culture police are kept at bay.
“I understand, and in some ways applaud that [baggy pants] effort, but mostly I’m on the side of, we’re part of a very public place, where people are a part of the attraction,” he said.
Like I always say: There’s weird, and then there’s Wildwood.