My date and I spent a rainy Saturday night in June hitting some of the bars in Cape May that we think single people looking for a good time should try out. We were on foot, so we focused our attention on a few that are found on and around Beach Ave.
Our trek started at the King Eddy (King Edward Room in the Chalfonte Hotel, Howard Street, 2 blocks from the beach). This Southern Plantation style building, celebrating its 127th anniversary this season, is host to several musical events every summer. At the end of a typical performance the audience spills out of the Henry Sawyer Room into the King Eddy, so, by 10ish the place is usually happenin’ — it’s a theater-going kind of happenin’, laid back, sophisticated, cozy. Tonight Paul Klineburger is tending bar and he makes a super Mint Julep (in the style of the Old South)
But on this particular Saturday night, it really isn’t happenin’. For a couple of reasons. One, it’s only 9:30 for heaven’s sake, but we had to start somewhere. Two, the Henry Sawyer Room was dark this night so it was really only hotel guests and passers-by filling the bar and the tables. After a bit of chat with the bar customers, we finished our drinks and move on. But we say don’t miss the King Edward. Especially when Jilline Ringle begins her cabaret run at the Chalfonte on July 2.
Off we go to Cabanas on the Beach – four blocks away at Beach and Decatur. When we arrive, “The Jinx” is just getting ready to start their first set. Scott, the man in charge wants to know if we want to buy a VIP card – a pass for whenever they have a cover charge. We decline.
The bar is full and the tables alongside the bar are quickly filling up. There is a constant buzz around the pool tables at the far end of the room. The crowd at Cabanas varies according to who’s on stage. On this night the mood is young and single. By the middle of The Jinx’s first set, girls are standing against the rail facing the band. Tattooed Ronnie who shares vocals with Kelly works the room like a segment on American Idol leaping off the stage and making his way around the bar – mike in hand. By the end of their second set, the dance floor is crowded. It’s noisy and jumping but we must move on. We finish our drinks and just four steps down the pavement is the stairway to Martini Beach.
Conveniently, Martini Beach is right above Cabanas. Jason, our bartender informs us, this restaurant/bar, is a classier place to linger. A mermaid hangs over the bar. A neon martini glass lights the far wall. By the time we arrive, dinner (which by the way is served in a small narrow room with an ocean-view shared by the bar) is over; so the music is cranked up – a mix of Disco and 80s funk. No dance floor, so I’m forced to sway and move my head as though only the upper half of me could dance. But it’s fun…
My date takes a drag on his unfiltered Camel, sits back in his chair, looks over and says, “You’re scaring me.” His fears are squelched after he gets a taste of “Mickey’s Dirty Little Secret,” a vodka martini with olive juice and giant olives served straight up. I have a Key Lime Martini which tastes just a little too much like Key Lime Pie. Duuuhhhh . What did I think it was going to taste like? Key lemon? I prefer “Mickey’s Dirty Little Secret” …but I manage to drain my Key Lime thing… no problem.
I could have stayed in this small, intimate room the rest of the night. The crowd is mixed– 30s,40s, 50s, locals, tourists, people looking for a nice place to hang and talk. Kinda nice. Hmmmm. No no. Duty calls. We must be off! But not very far at all.
All rightie then. Carney’s and Carney’s Other Room are just a few more steps away after I manage to deal with the long narrow stairway down from Martini Beach. We open the door to “Carney’s Other Room” first. Now, you know the place is having an off night when everyone – all six of them – look up from their drinks as you as though you were the newest stranger in town. “Ahh, on second thought, I think we’ll go on over to the other Carney’s. Not the Other Room Carney’s – the original – well maybe it wasn’t that Carney’s. But the one … next door… whatever!”
We approach the door minder who wants five bucks a pop for a cover; or we can pay $25 for a VIP card. We negotiate. It’s an assignment after all.
O.K. Let me just say that tonight – if you’re looking to be where the action is – this is the place to be. “Bigg Romeo” is just finishing a bigg set. The dance floor is mobbed with beautiful young people having a great time. The place absolutely exudes sensuality from the tacky flashing lights on the dance floor to the cave-like decor to the gorgeous babe dancing in the tight T-shirt with the cowboy hat .
I am tempted to switch to club soda. But then I can’t comment on the drinks. Hhmmmm. So I order something light. Suffice to say it’s chilled and wet. Besides the drinks are secondary to the band and the crowd. Wait – did I just see a girl in a wedding gown? No. I saw two girls in wedding gowns. Who knew?
June, as we all know, is El primo wedding month and it’s also the time when young brides, their grooms, and their entire wedding parties move on to Carney’s for some after-wedding-party partying. The one bride is named Karen Stoner- her first time using her new name we figure since she and her new hubby just came from the Southern Mansion where their reception was held. She says she really doesn’t have time to talk. Even if she wanted to, I couldn’t hear her; so I had her write her name on my notepad.
We must leave Carney’s before Bigg Romeo takes to the stage again. It’s getting late and we still have more stops to make. Besides I’ve been made! People are asking me why I’m trying to take notes in a bar after midnight. Well fercryinoutloud, the tape recorder idea didn’t work, that’s why!
The Rusty Nail is kind of a locals’ bar, at the west end of town on Beach Ave near Broadway, which puts it kind of out of the loop for bar-hopping. If you can manage the 6 block walk however, it’s worth the effort.
First of all, it has breathing room. A big hackin’ horseshoe bar, large dance floor, spacious dining room, and the management generally books some really good music. Tonight it’s the Sindi Raymond Band. This couple — I don’t know if they’re a “couple,” but he’s a boy and she’s a girl and there are two of them O.K.? — this couple has a fresh, smooth sound. They’ve played in Wildwood since the mid 90s but are new to Cape May. Even though we’re approaching 1 a.m. the bar is still full. People seem pretty mellow but shortly the crowd thins. Everybody is liking the music.
Unfortunately, we can’t stay long, I have two more stops before closing time. Tyring to clear my head a bit, we saunter back along Beach to Perry and go downstairs to the Boiler Room in the Congress Hall Hotel. My first impression was that I had just crashed someone’s wedding. My date didn’t have that sense since by now, I think he was approaching senseless. He plants himself at the bar while I go to investigate.
I hear the band but I can’t find them. How is that possible? A semicircle of gorgeous sophisticated young adults, girls in long slinky dresses, guys in suits and tuxes – are all standing facing away from the bar. I make my way to the far corner, still following the sound and there they are! – The Benderz – down in the orchestra pit. Well, not really an orchestra pit, but a place that’s certainly set below sea level. I sense if I’m not careful I’ll trip into the band.
Apparently the happy couple are from Texas, or one of them is from Texas. In homage to this, The Benderz sing a pretty good rendition of Garth Brooks’ “I Got Friends In Low Places.” I would say that on a normal, non-wedding kind of a Saturday night, this would certainly be on my “A-list” of places to stop and even on this night, everyone is having a great time and it’s infectious. I want to stop now and stay a while longer… Can’t.
Our last stop (it’s going on 2 a.m.) is the Ugly Mug. I figure this late at night, it must be pretty ugly by now. Well, it is, but not in the way I thought it would be. We’ve been to “the Mug” before and know more than a few of the namesakes on the hanging mugs personally. Great local bar. But this night we’ve gotten there just a bit too late. Just a handful of people left, who prod the guitar player, Wesley Ochs, to play “Sweet Caroline,” and a bunch of lame requests. When we hear him saying, “I can only play so many Jimmy Buffet songs in one night!” we figure it’s time to go home. Besides, I’m feeling like the night is SO OVER now anyway. I’m really, really glad we walked. I could never find my car keys or even my car.
That was our Saturday night in Cape May. We hit fewer than half of in-season Cape May night spots Though I got a fat headache from the assignment, I’m ready for Part II.
A couple sober tips for newbies in Cape May: The local newspapers are full of info on who’s playing where. But be sure to log onto CapeMayAfterDark.com. It’s the web site to keep abreast of “what’s happening where” at night in Victorian Cape May.