Friday, July 8, 2011
Bay Shores Nightclub, Somers Point, NJ
[Thanks to Roger Evoy for photos and the memories]
Bayshores Flashback - They shook the rafters and drank 10 cent beers - In Memorial Days gone by.
By William Kelly (Originally published in the Atlantic City Sun - Friday, May 22, 1981).
"Places make us - first genes, then places - after that it's everyman for himself. God help us, and good luck to one and all." - William Saroyan - "Places Where I've Done Time."
With the coming of Memorial Day weekend, the traditional beginning of summer, and with it thousands of kids just out of school, their cars stream around the Somers Point Circle, hell bent on hitting the beach, towards a summer that's finally here. Just before crossing the Ocean City causeway they pass the Bay Shores Cafe marquee - a dull burnout green neon sign on an empty lot. For anyone who has spent a weekend at this part of the Jersey Shore, that marquee stands as a relic, a memorial to an era gone by.
For now there's only a dusty vacant lot along the bay. Since it's prime development property there'sa blueprint lying in a drawer somewhere that illustrates what could be or will be. But for many people that quadrant of the univerise still rings with memories.
In the 20's and 30's, as the Bay Shores nicelodeon played songs for a bullalo head, they'd dance the boogie-woogie and do the jitterbug. During World War II girls in gowns and soldiers in brown would sway to the big band sounds of Tommy Dorsey, Benny Goodman and Glenn Miller, then break out into the Lindy Hop, with hands and feet flying.
"We'd shake the rafters," one former patron (my mother) remembered," and we'd laugh and say how one day the dance floor would fall into the bay."
Until the storm of '44 took out the deck the dance floor extended out over the bay. Only the pilings are still in place today, and now only vibrate with the tides. After the storm, near the end of the war, Tony Marotta opened Tony Marts across the street, but the competition only brought in more people, making Bay Avenue a popular entertainment strip, with other clubs like Steel's Ship Bar, the Under 21 Club and the Anchorage. But Bay Shores was always the flagship on the water.
Vince Rennich started working there in 1952, just out of the Army, the year before they remodeled it for the last time.
"My mother introduced me to a neighbor up in Philadelphia, John McCann, one of the owners, and he offered me a job for the summer," recalled Rennich. Starting out as a bar back, washing glasses and stocking ice, Vince eventually became a bartender, and lived in a room above the club with a window overlooking the bay. "It was a dump with a million dollar view," he would later say.
Opening the weekend before Memorial Day and closing the weekend after Labor Day, many of Bay Shores employees - the bartenders, waiteresses, bouncers and musicians would go to Florida and work there for the season, returing to Somers Point in the spring. "We would open the doors in the spring and the beer bottles and glasses would still be on the bar from the night they closed," said Vince.
Rennich worked at Bay Shores for five years, until 1957, when he got married, was starting a family, and needed a full time, year 'round job, so he took a shift at Gregory's on Shore Road and remained there every since. "Before 1953 there was a partition across the bar," Rennich said, "with piano music for older people on one side and rock & roll on the other side for the kids."
At the time, all the "kids" were over 21, the drinking age before the 1970s, when they lowered it to 18, because that was the age they were drafting boys to fight in Vietnam. It was the lowering of the drinking age to 18 that killed the Bay Avenue Strip as it was, bringing in a younger, sassier, immature crowd that intimated the mature, serious set.
"In those days," Rennich recalls, "you could come down here with $10, have a good time, and go home with $9. You made less, but had more. You could do anything you wanted because the price was right. It was 10 cents for a glass of Gretz beer, and later it was 50 cents a bottle of beer and 60 cents a shot."
In the late 40s and early 50s and into the 70s, Mike Pedicin, Sr. played sax and led the band on the Bay Shores stage, his young son Mike Pedicin, Jr. playing a toy sax at his knees. Then he moved over to Steel's Ship Bar, the Jolly Roger and DiOrio's, taking his crowd and popular song, "Shake A Hand," with him.
Pete Carrol was another Bay Shores staple, playing songs like "Sweet Georgia Brown," and Tido Mombo, a hairy hippie, was before his time, dressing like Jesus Christ and trying to walk on water.
Bill Haley & the Comets, Conway Twitty and Levon & the Hawks played Tony Marts across the street, Bay Shores followed suit and countered with Rocco & the Saints, Billy Duke & the Dukes, Tido Mombo and Pete Carrol. Rocco & the Saints featured two teenage sidemen, Frankie Avalon and Bobby Rydel, who would go on to make waves on their own.
Bay Shores leased out their kitchen to "South Philly Bernie," who would grill up hot dogs, burgers and cheesteaks, and the $2 ticket voucher you got to park your car or as cover at the door was good for drinks or food.
Bay Shores was THE PLACE to go to hear great music, party and dance for decades. On weekends the matinee shows became a popular post beach party, and if it ever rained, the bands and bartenders checked in for a spontaneous jam, with everybody dancing dressed in their bathing suits. "You couldn't get in the door there were so many people," Rennich recalls. "We'd have to close the place at 7 pm for an hour to clean up and get ready for the second shift, which lasted until 2 am."
When the music stopped in Somers Point they'd just be getting underway at the nearby Dunes on Longport Boulvard, an after-hours joint across the bay bridge in Egg Harbor Township (EHT). Both Bay Shores and the Dunes were owned by the same guys - John McCann, a bootlegger and beer barron and Dick McLain, a builder who also owned the historic General Wayne Inn, in Pennsylvania.
They printed popular t-shirts that read Bay Shores on the front and Dunes Til' Dawn on the back, with a rising sun.
In the late 1960s, Buddy Tweill worked the first front bar of a half-dozen or so bars that surrounded the stage and dance floor. Twill was a character out of the Endless Summer, taking off for Colorado in the winter and making it to Fort Lauderdale by Easter and Bay Shores for Memorial Day.
One of the most popular Bay Shores bands of the late '60s was Johnny Caswell and the Chrystal Mansion. Caswell perfected a Joe Cocker-like inflecion and recorded a few songs, some of which can still be found on the juke box at the Anchorage and Maloney's in Margate.
Charlie Brown, who worked at Bay Shores for awhile before moving down the street to the Anchorage, said he last heard from Caswell a year or so ago. "I got a prayer chain letter from him in California," Charlie Brown says, "I threw it out and my luck's been bad ever since."
After Caswell, Malcom and his band "Hereafter" came in from near Lancaster, Pa., and were popular for doing cover songs like Rod Stewart's "Maggie Mae," which I remember distinctly.
The band across the street at Tony Marts, led by Ruby Falls, gave Malcolm and Hereafter at Bay Shores some stiff competition, and they would time their sets so people could hear one band and then go across the street to hear the other. Then at the end of one summer Malcolm and Ruby got married and disapeared.
It's Memorial Day weekend, and we're left with photos and prints of the old boarded up rock house, sitting there like a derelict ghost ship that's slipping into the bay.
The bands and building are gone, but the pilings are still there, and you can't tell if the pilings are shaking from the wind and the surf or some still vibrating jitterbug or rock & roll tune that doesn't want to end.