In the modern Western-movie classic “Silverado,” veteran actor Kevin Kline says, “A good, smelly saloon is my favorite place in the world.” There are days when I am forced to agree with him. I didn’t have a neighborhood bar when I lived in East Goshen, Pa. The only place that could have qualified as a gin mill of character catered to 25-year-olds. (The last time I was in there the barmaid was a huge snapping turtle.) The other bars on the edge of West Chester had an aura of falsehood about them, with bullshit Irish names and bogus “authentic” pub decor.
Things aren’t much improved in Cape May, NJ, where the neighborhood watering holes are primarily attached to eateries, though several have definite characters behind the bar. I had a decent time over a plate of Cape May Salties (some of the finest oysters on the half shell that I have ever tasted) at the bar in the Lobster House recently, where the barman — Bob — mixed me a couple of Negronis with elan and wit. It is currently possible to have two Negronis and a half-dozen Cape May Salties for less than $20, and that includes the tip.
But I like a bar where the smell of the booze has permeated the walls and whose good-natured patrons can be relied on to burst into song at the drop of a hat. (Technically, a place of this nature should also include cigar smoke but you can forget that in the Continental US.) The roar of a motorcycle (from outside) and ballistic gear would always be fashionable in my kind of joint. These places are hard to find without a specific recommendation. Saint Paddy’s Day found me writing myself into a funk as deep as the Marianas Trench. I had just reached a point in the dialogue where the moto-bride’s mother (inspired by her daughter’s choice of a groom) had suggested that the words “Eat shit and die” be incorporated into her daughter’s wedding vows, when I thought, “I have to get away from this.”
I jumped in the truck, now known as “Big Balls,” and lit up a cigar the size of a Ducati muffler. Cranking Meatloaf out of the stereo, I headed though the salt marshes to the blue water of the Atlantic. The New Jersey shore is coming alive months ahead of schedule as global warming (or a season of manure-laden political campaigning) is now driving mid-March temperatures into the 60’s and 70’s (degrees fahrenheit). This means the crowds are returning earlier, bringing with them traffic and longer waits for a table with a view of the water. Yet the road was wide open as I bounced over the little steel-grate toll bridge into Wildwood Crest, and headed into one of New Jersey most successful shore communities.
The “Wildwoods” represent a mixed community of 15-story condos crowding the dunes, along with the systemic preservation of 1950’s-style motels (complete with fake palm trees), and amusement piers. My destination was the corner of East Wildwod Avenue and Atlantic Avenue.
Tucker’s Pub is alleged to be the real Irish watering hole in these parts and it certainly had the trappings for it. Not the nonsensical Celtic crap on the walls (photographs of the old country and slogans of the Easter Rebellion), but about a dozen bagpipers clad in green plaid, wearing the badges of local police and fire departments, accompanied by several hundred people with pleasant faces as Irish as Paddy’s pig. Tucker’s is a legitimate saloon. The building was originally built as a bank, and the massive vault door is still in place behind the bar, which seats about 70 on nice stools. There is an outside porch and dining room filled with tables as well. The tin ceiling is museum quality and the decor of dark woodwork is offset by dozens of flags hanging from the ceiling. Many of these are unit flags from the armed services as well as Irish cultural representations.
It took a while to find a space at the bar... In fact, I found myself standing behind a stunning blond for about 10 minutes. Her only article of green apparel that day was a lacy garter with a verdant ribbon over her black jeans.
“I’ve never seen a green garter before,” I said with a grin.
She turned and shot me a smile, knowing full well what I actually said was, “You have the hottest ass in this bar. I would wear it as a top hat to a Presidential inauguration.”
I got a stool next to a burley guy who wore the leather gear and visage of a Harley rider. His face bore the marks of seasoned road warrior with hundreds of thousands of miles under his belt. Everyone else was slamming pints of Guinness and Harp... He was nursing a “Bud” and a double shot of “Jack.”
I ordered a Harp “shorty” and a shot of Jamesons.
“That your Road King outside?” I asked after a bit.
“Yup,” he replied. “It ain’t on its side, is it?”
“Not when I last saw it,” I said. “It’s a beautiful bike.”
His machine was the classic Harley... A balance of dark green paint and lustrous chrome, highlighted by leather tanned from sin-free cattle. There wasn’t a spec of dust on the bike, though it had 32,00 miles on the clock and was only last year’s model.
He glanced at my cane and asked me if I rode. I gave him the details, with the emphasis on my addiction to German motorcycles and a brief explanation that I needed the cane since my last wife unloaded a 12-gauge into my hip. He looked at me with raised eyebrows, and I explained that she’d caught me playing pirate with her younger sister.
“Pirate?” he asked.
“Yeah,” I replied. “I was giving her a jolly rogering in the hot tub.”
While not exactly the truth, this explanation makes perfect sense to a lot of Harley riders.
His name was Raul Murphy. He explained his mother had been a hot-blooded Spanish beauty while his late dad was a hot-tempered Irish prick, and that he had inherited the worst traits of both. “My mother could carry a grudge like a bag of groceries, while my dad could drink himself into a blood feud in less than 15 minutes,” Murphy said.
I told him I never knew my father, but that I occasionally got birthday cards from the Federal Witness Protection program when I was little. “My mom got a job scrubbing the white line of US-9 where it runs through Hudson County,” I lied. “She’d be on her hands and knees with a scrub brush, everyday, working to get the skid marks off the white lines, with traffic zooming all around her. Mom did this for 28 years, until she saved up enough money to hire a comedian to entertain at my first wedding.”
“Why did she do that?” asked Raul.
“Because after meeting my new in-laws, she thought I would never laugh again,” I said.
Raul and I lingered over our beers, but we each ordered another shot. In the reverie that so often punctuates comments and stories traded by riders, Raul noticed me staring at yet another blond, at a table of nine, each wearing a green tee shirt and the comic impedimenta of hard-drinking folks anxious to be associated with the ancient and sophisticated culture of Hibernia. While I am sure they discussed the significance of the Book of Kells that afternoon, they were also chugging drinks called “Irish Car Bombs.”
This second blond had a softer, more attainable look. She had a laugh that identified her as a genuinely free spirit and the kind of person you’d want on a pillion. She led the singing when the Irish tenor on the juke box gave it a rest, and Neil Diamond broke into “Sweet Caroline.” But she became positively beautiful when dancing around to some rock number.
“You like that one, huh?” asked Raul.
“I like ‘em all,” I laughed. “I’m gonna send that one a note just before I jump into the La Brea Tar Pits. I got too old and too gimpy too fast.”
“”There are very few advantages to getting old,” said Raul. “Can I tell you a tragic story of middle age?”
Raul was pushing 55 and looked pretty good for the half-century mark. But as he tells it, middle-age is more than just creaky joints, less hair, and tighter pants. Sometimes, it is the loss for a certain zest of life.
He’d been enamored of a younger woman in her mid-forties for quite some time. Work occasionally threw them together and he always detected a certain flirtiness, suggesting the door of romantic possibility was ajar, if not actually open. She’d let him take her to lunch, to work-related events, and occasionally out for a drink... But she’d balk whenever he tried to kick things up a notch. And then, when he’d had enough and started to pull away, she’d give him call or walk into his shop, and the process would start again.
“I couldn’t get her out of my mind in the beginning. I wanted her so badly that I could taste her in Chinese take-out food,” said Raul. “I imagined the fun we’d have together... The conversations we’d share... The places we’d go to... But I couldn’t get it off the dime.”
He described the gradual process by which pragmatism transcends desire, and how the lack of fulfillment gradually exposes a potential lover’s flaws, to the point where you’re just barely going through the motions of pursuit. In his opinion, this process is accelerated after a certain age. He called it “the age of practical intolerance.”
“I used to think of this woman as I’d polish the chrome on the bike... Imagining what it would be like to rub cocoa butter on her body, in the warm sun. And then one day, I realized it was more satisfying polishing the chrome,” said Raul. “That’s when I just gave it up... And she started chasing me.”
The chase wasn’t obvious at first. It was subtle to the point where it could easily be concealed, or recalled. “And it was then I realized I had reached a point in my life where I just didn’t give a shit if I dotted all the ‘i’s or crossed all the ‘t’s for someone else. A week later she turned up at a bar where I was hanging out, and asked me for a ride home on the bike.
“She lived in a chic-chic part of town where parking was tight and the only spot within a block or two of her place was by a yellow curb, beneath the sign ‘No Parking From Here To Corner,’” said Raul. “But I figured, ‘What the hell! This was finally going my way.’
“She put on some throbbing music from the 90’s and took off her shoes and jeans. Then she sat in my lap and started kissing my mouth and throat. And the damnedest thing happened. All I could think of was the $75 ticket I was likely to get on the bike... But she was a good kisser, and I had been waiting for this for three years,” said Raul.
“She ran her hand up and down the inside of my leg, before opening my pants. In another second or two, I would have opened them myself — with both hands behind my head,” said Raul.”
I nodded knowingly at this point in the story.
“And then she started with a trombone solo... All I could think of was the last line on that ‘No Parking’ sign which read, ‘Tow-Away Zone,’” said Raul. “All I could envision was some guy loading my perfect bike onto a flatbed.”
He paused, and belted down the Jack Daniels. Then he looked at me and said, “I told her, ‘Honey... I’ll be right back. I gotta move the bike.’ I zipped up my pants, ran down to the street, and fired up the Harley. Then I made a half-assed effort to find another place to park... Before just riding it home. You really know you’re middle-aged when a blow job is just too much aggravation.”
“That’s the saddest story I ever heard,” I said, wiping a tear from my eye.
“Ain’t it though,” said Raul.
“Did she ever call you again?”
“Quite right,” I said.
You meet the most profound people in legitimate, neighborhood bars.
Atlantic Avenue and East Wildwood Avenue • Wildwood, NJ
The atmosphere and menu in Tucker’s is worth a ride to the Wildwood, New Jersey area. Of course, I am talking about off season. Parking and crowds look like they could be a first-class pain in the ass in the summer. (Stop and go shore-town traffic can be an issue for big, heavy, heat-generating motorcycles.) The joint is close to the boardwalk and the beach, which means parking on the street would go quickly, even if you got there around 11:30am.
The “Hot” Reuben sandwich is about an inch and a quarter of thinly-sliced, corned-beef, topped with Swiss cheese and sauerkraut. The bread was quality rye, finely toasted in butter for a unique flavor. It was priced at $8.99, and couldn’t have been better. A pint of Harp on St. Paddy’s Day was about $4. I got a taste of the Maple Bourbon chicken wings, $9, and they were terrific too.
Not sampled was the fish and chips, which looked really impressive, and which was priced at $15.99. The chips (or French fries) are the steak fries variety and looked like professional cut and posed model fries for cook books.
Service here was very good, despite the mob, and every effort was made to seat folks as soon as practical. The wait staff was competent and pleasant. The hostess ran things with a practiced eye. The music was set to the right level, and conversation was not a problem. I would happily take a woman here if I could find one that would take me up on my offer. Tables are nicely spaced in the dining room and patrons do not get the impression they are eating on a plane. A sign at the door advises that biker club “tee” shirts or colors are not allowed.
I’d drop in here for dinner on a Friday night (in a heartbeat), and sit at the bar for a night’s diversion. There is no waterfront view, or any view, though there is is nice wrap around porch with tables.
The Lobster House
906 Schellengers Landing Road Cape May, NJ 08204
This is a full-service sit down restaurant that is right on the wharf at Cape May, NJ. It is featuring Cape May Salties, raw oysters that are the equal of anything I’ve had from Prince Edward Island, at about 1/3 the price. Of course, the place has a reputation for clams on the half-shell as well. While the seafood here is very good, my focus for this blog episode is the bar. Get there around 5:30pm (or noon), sit at the bar, order a dozen Cape May Salties and a Negroni or a Manhattan. Savor both. If it is the weekend, you may be lucky to have “Bob” as your barman. He has a personality like a game show host and mixes a cocktail like a gifted scientist. During the week, it might be Alise. Tell them “Negroni Jack” sent you.
The second major attraction here is the fish store. This place offers one of the finest selections of exotic and Jersey Fresh seafood in the area. It also features authentic New York-style cheesecakes and fine pastries for dessert.
The parking lot here appears to hold 3 million cars and buses... Because that many people will hit this joint each day in the height of the summer season. Ride your motorcycle here for lunch on the warmer off-season days now. It is my hope that if I start leading an exemplary life, and die in a state of grace, that I will find myself in a heaven where Bob is mixing my Negronis and serving Cape May Salties.
Twisted Roads is not affiliated in any way with restaurants nor bars reviewed on this blog. Neither Twisted Roads nor Jack Riepe advocates operating a motorcycle nor any motor vehicle while legally or practically impaired by any controlled substance. Neither Twisted Roads nor Jack Riepe advocates eating raw seafood (that looks like female genitalia) as things could come to a bad end. Be very careful about what you put in your mouth. In recent years, drinking water, consuming alcohol, breathing air, having sex, getting married, getting divorced, smoking cigars, and believing in stupid things posted on the internet have all been judged to be harmful to your health. Just mind your own business... Keep your hands to yourself... And marry responsibly. If you like this blog, write in and tell us. If you don’t, keep it a secret and carry it to the grave.
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