Thursday, July 7, 2011

Susan McClain and the Old Bay Shores

Susan McClain, 52, of Vineland, is shown standing in front of Baia in Somers Point, which was formerly Bayshores, where she worked as a bar manager in the 1970s at age 18. She is holding a photograph of her parents, Richard and Joanne McClain, and her grandparents, Chesterfield and Naomi Freyer. Stefanie Campolo

Mon Jul 4, 2011.
Press of Atlantic City

SOMERS POINT — Sure, you could say the area bars were packed this weekend — but really, this was nothing compared to decades past, when entire city blocks pulsated with music on hot summer nights.

Some of the people who were there have made it their mission to remind people of the way it used to be — and one of those people is Susan McClain.

It was the mid-70s, the heyday of the Bay Avenue bar scene, and patrons could hop from Tony Mart’s to the Anchorage to Bayshore’s and back again during the course of a few hours.

McClain was right in the center of it as a busy manager at Bayshores, counting the money, booking the bands and making sure the place didn’t completely burst at the seams.
She was 15 years old.

“I was a very petite teenager,” she recalled. “When the ABC (Alcohol and Beverage Commission) used to raid the place, I would try to smush into the wall. They’d always walk right past me.”

Today, McClain, 52, of Vineland, is devoted to keeping the memory of the long-gone Bayshores Cafe alive. She has CDs full of pictures of the bar in its halcyon days, and has been a regular at Carmen Marotta’s Tony Mart’s reunion events — despite the old friendly rivalry between his family’s bar and hers.

And not just that one bar, either. When someone recently asked about her “Bayshores” T-shirt, she made sure to turn around and show off the back as well: “Dunes ‘til Dawn.” Besides his half-stake in Bayshore’s, McClain’s father owned one quarter of The Dunes a few miles away in Egg Harbor Township, which got its sunrise-welcoming nickname because it stayed open until 6 a.m. while Somers Point bars closed at 2.

So how did she end up running a bar before she could even drink? Her father, Dick McClain, died when she was young, and her mother, Joanne, wasn’t that interested in the bars she inherited — “She wasn’t really paying attention,” McClain said — so she essentially put her teenage daughter in charge.

Then, when she was 18, her mother — having already let The Dunes lapse into receivership — sold Bayshores to a number of buyers, including Harris and Lee Berman. Lee didn’t think much of McClain at first — “What are you, 12?” he asked her — but soon hired her to manage again for another two years.

McClain would handle the books, clean out the registers, restock the bars and collect the $3 cover — an occasionally hazardous duty.

“I remember a guy in a truck wanted his $3 back, and I wouldn’t give it to him,” she said. “All of a sudden, the truck’s coming back at me in reverse. He hit a big pipe in the driveway, broke it off, and then he went forward and left.”

Acts ranging from the Allman Brothers to Frankie Valli played Bayshore’s, but the biggest draw in her time there was always the confusingly named band “Sam the Band,” best known for its members’ trademark routine of patriotically pulling an American flag out of their pants on stage.

“It was packed every night when they were here,” she said. “We used to get $3,000 a night. You could barely move in there. And we always had two bands going at all times, so there was never a break in the music.”

The bouncers, apparently, were a mixed bag, especially when it came to drinking — which McClain didn’t do to often, even after she turned 18. One held her on a pool table and poured scotch down her throat — “just to see what would happen,” she said — while another bouncer, a 350-pound giant, helped her out one evening at The Dunes.

“I ordered a rum and coke, and I asked him, ‘Do you think there’s any rum in my drink?’” she said. “So he grabbed the bartender by the throat and said, ‘Are you trying to rip off my blonde friend here?’ The next one was all rum.”

She and others from Bayshores would often end their night at The Dunes, or pop over to the Marotta’s pizza parlor — where she would usually, of course, be kindly kicked out for being a rival McClain.

Other times, they would just head over to Mother’s, also in EHT, and dance until dawn. That is, if they allowed her inside, and didn’t confuse her with her underage sister.
“My mother sent a letter to all the bars saying not to let her in,” she said of her sister, “but at Mother’s I had to tell them, ‘I’m the the one who’s 18! She’s 15!’”

Then there was the time she slept over at Bayshores when a friend broke his car out of a tow lot, and she had to prove to detectives that her family owned the place and she didn’t break in — all without a driver’s license, which she left in Ocean City. Or when her sister threw her brother off the stage at The Dunes. Or when the police would stand on the roof of Mother’s with shotguns waiting for the Hell’s Angels.

All those places, of course, are long since gone.

Since then, McClain ran a cab company for 25 years, Susan’s Cabs, then became a teacher in Vineland for several years before she was recently laid off. She still tries to catch as much of the local music scene as she can — following an interview, she was off to a show at Formica Bros. Bakery — and she would love to get back in the game, if she gets the chance.

“I keep telling Carmen that if he opens another Tony Mart’s, he should hire me as manager,” McClain said. “But he always says the same thing: ‘You’re from Bayshores!’ We are good friends though. He’s gotten over all that ... I think.”


Tony Mart's, Dunes till dawn and Bayshore were the happening places back then. It was great fun and there were no drugs in the bars like now.
Roberta Figueroa • Miami, Florida

Used to fish for stripers late at nite under the bridges out on the causeway and listen to the problem hearing it halfway to OC!
Fred Mason

I remember all of those places:) Saw Ricky and the Rockets At Tony Mart and Johnny Caswell and the Crystal Mansion at Bayshores!
Sheila Oliva • Pfeiffer College

This article is wrong in so many ways. I lived this life, I was there every step of the way, JOE LEE, she talked about "Hells Angles" I did know her as a kid, when I was little with her dad and John McAnn. I am sure you have something to say about the whole Mothers thing? Read the article, Andrew is not happy! She is very ill informed!
Patrick Piriano • Consultant at Dept of National Defence

Hi Bill I'm sure you would remember the 6foot 8inch DJ from the Surfside you wrote a very nice article on me in the Sun Paper in about 1983 I was taken back by the Article in the Press of AC about Bayshores and what I know to be many inaccuracies {having worked there} in the winter of 1974 with Gerry Hennessey for Jack Murry at the front door. Also having worked at Tony Marts in 1970 at the door when Mr Marotta sat in a wheel chair out front. I looked up your article to get the facts straight for the history and time lines. Thanks for the facts and would love to talk to you again.
Franz Adler

Bill Kelly Notes: I agree with Pat and Franz, as Susan's 35 year old memories of when she was a teenager just don't jive with what we know is the history of Bay Shores. And the reporter who wrote the story certainly wasn't there and was banking entirely on her recollections. I met Susan at one of Carmen's Tony Mart reunions at the Legion in Somers Point, and asked her about some of her old photos. Now that they are scanned and on a CD perhaps she will share them with us and we can all reminisce over them.

I'd especially like to see any photos of the Allman Brothers or Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons there, as that's news to me. While Valli was a Jersey guy, he was a North Jersey guy, and I don't believe he performed locally in any of the bars, though I could be wrong, especially if there are photos. I think that she just remembers some cover bands playing their songs, which is more likely the case.

Nor did the police stand on the roof of Mothers waiting for the Hells Angels. While the Hells Angels did come to Ocean City in 1965, the Mothers incident was with the Pagans Motor Cycle Club, not the Hells Angels, and the police were not on the roof with shotguns, though I'm sure the real story of what happened then more fascinating than the myth.

And I don't believe Marottas ever had a pizza parlor, though there was one across the street, next to Bay Shores.

And all the old places aren't gone now, as the Anchorage, mentioned in the article, is still kicking strong.

While it is true, that if you look at people at the Somers Point bars and restaurants today, quietly listening to an easy listening band while eating dinner and sipping wine, they have no idea what a real good time is when compared to the rock and roll days of the old Point.

And now, years, decades after Bay Shores, Tony Marts, Steels Ship Bar, Your Father's Mustache, the Under 21 Club, the Med and others are long gone, the legends and myths take over where the history leaves off, even though the history is sometimes more interesting than the myths.

I will try to dig out the real Bay Shores and bring it out again, if anybody's interested, and I hope that Susan will share her photo collection with the rest of us.

Bill Kelly (

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