Sunday, July 24, 2011
The Baia Restaurant, Bay Avenue Somers Point
Baia – The former Waterfront and Bay Shores
The restaurant currently called Baia sits on the oldest and most historic bayfront location in Somers Point. As the dock of the Somers’ Plantation in colonial times, a tavern has been seasonally active since ferries ran scheduled runs to the barrier islands of Ocean City and Absecon at Longport.
The Hotel Bayview was the end of the line for two trolley lines, the Shore Road trolley and the track line that ran to the Atlantic City boardwalk, so the last stop was a popular watering hole for travelers waiting for the ferry or trolley.
Judge Larry Brannigan, who was known as the “Judge Roy Bean East of the Patcong Creek,” owned both the Hotel Bayview as well as the Anchorage Tavern down the street until he sold the Bayview to Charles Fox. On May 17, 1917 Fox requested a license in a petition in which he said to “be desirous of obtaining a license to keep an inn and tavern and to sell wines, spirituous and other strong liquors in quantities of less than one quart, in what is known as Hotel Bayview at the foot of Bay Avenue and Main Street.”
Fob’s Hotel Bayview eventually became Bay Shore, which was operated by Ma Dean during prohibition and later by Hap Ross. With a dance floor that stretched out over the bay on pilings, Bay Shores was where they drank and danced the nights away.
In 1946 Hap Ross sold Bay Shores to John McCann, Sr. and Dick McLain. McLain was a builder who owned the historic General Wayne Inn outside of Philadelphia, while McCann was familiar with Bay Shores from his bootlegging days, which he carried over after prohibition as a legitimate beer baron of Philadelphia.
Jack Murray, McCann’s brother-in-law was the manager of Bay Shores, which for many years served Gretz beer on tap. In 1950 McCann hired Vince Rennich to work for him, and Rennich later recalled, “They had three guys working the tap and people would drink it as fast as they could pour it. One guy poured the beer, another guy took the money – ten cents a beer, and a third colleted and washed the empty glasses. Waiters delivered the beer around the crowd like it was a ballpark.”
There were two stages, one in the back by the dancefloor that stretched over the bay and the other by the front bar, with a partition that separated the two, and older folks staying in the back and younger kids upfront where the loud music was played.
Early rock & roll was born at Bay Shores with the dance bands like Mike Pedicin, Sr., the Carroll Brothers and Roco and the Saints.
Pedicin had a regional hit with “Shake A Hand,” his signature song, while Pete Carroll was known for playing “Sweet Georgia Brown,” and Roco and the Saints had a 16 year old drummer named Bobby Rydell and a kid trumpet player Frankie Avalon.
With two stages the bands rotated so that when one went off the other would immediately pick up the beat, so nobody left, though people often drifted across the street to check out the other bands at Tony Marts and Steels Ship Bar.
Of all the clubs in Somers Point the best competition was between Bay Shores and Tony Marts. Bay Shores also featured Bobby Duke and the Dukes, Little Richie and the Upsetters, Tido Mambo, The Isley Brothers, Skyliners (“Pennies from Heaven”) Johnny Caswell and the Bonnevills (and later the Crystal Mansion), Hereafter, the Monkeymen and Sam the Band. The Sunday afternoon jam sessions from 3pm-6pm were very popular and brought in many of the people off the beach still in their suits, and whenever it rained they held spontaneous jam sessions that packed the dance floors.
Since the music in Somers Point had to be off by 2 am and the bar cleared by 3 am by municipal law, McCann and McLain built the Dunes nightclub out on the marshes on Longport Blvd. in Egg Harbor Township, where the liquor licenses were permitted to operate 24 hours a day. Some of the bands from Bay Shores went over to the Dunes after hours, and most of the crowds did too.
In 1980 attorney Harris Berman bought Bay Shores, leveled it and built the Waterfront, a restaurant with the live music moving out to its popular deck. It was later purchased by real estate guru Jay Lamont, who operated it under the name Bay Shores Alumni. Lamont then sold the property to an Ocean City industrial contractor who has had a number of different operators run the bar and restaurant.