The cool thing about hanging at the same beach and boat bars week after week is that everyone knows you and you know them. It’s comfortable. But the stories get stale – the same fish tales, storm yarns, beachcomber recollections, told the same way. It’s time for a change-up, to pick another spot where we’ll find new faces and hopefully, new stories! Here are a few of my own “change-ups,” ventured into over the past year or two at the shore and the bay. – Jay Lloyd
954 Ocean Drive
Cape May, NJ 08204
Cruising down Ocean Drive between Wildwood and Cape May, there it was, smack on the harbor. A party-sized bar with a sprawling deck and attached to a substantial marina. It also had a dynamite view of Cape May Harbor and the Coast Guard Base directly across on the opposite shore. You could drive up or boat in. There’s a good mix of beers on tap and servers who know the kegs. The menu is Jersey shore with one twist. The raw bar is there – clams, oysters, shrimp and crab. The twist is a sushi menu with more than two dozen choices. Be warned, though — on a good day, the deck fills fast.
615 Lafayette Street
Cape May, NJ 08204
If Cape May is your spot and a beachfront or mall bar is your happy hour retreat, a lively change-up is just couple of blocks to the north. Oyster Bay is a lively, smiling kind of place, as easy on the eye as it is on the palate. We’ve previously had a couple of return-worthy meals in the dining rooms. On a recent trip, we made a bar stop. The conversation with new acquaintances on either side, a fun bartender, a well mixed Manhattan and martini along with a bar menu that defies challenge, made this a decided new favorite. Tops for Mary and I on the bar menu are the lobster and crab crostini and the incredibly well-sauced tenderloin tips.
GREAT OAK LANDING
22170 Great Oak Landing Rd.
Chestertown, MD 21620
Whether you’re sailing or driving along the upper reaches of the Chesapeake Bay, there are more waterfront bars than you can plug into a GPS. But for the variety of a quiet or bust-out stop, head for the marina that’s tucked into Fairlee Creek on the Eastern Shore. On a recent stop, our crew collectively wondered why we don’t do it more often. For a quiet drink and commendable crab cake at Great Oak Landing, head for Mangroves, the eatery that overlooks the creek and marina. But if you want to dance your Dockside’s off at a tiki bar on a spit of beach with a young, vibrant crowd, take your thirst to Jellyfish Joel’s. One suggestion: I’ve found it unwise to either drive or sail away at the end of an evening. Anchor or tie up and spend the night. Rooms are available for the drive-in crew.
402 Key Highway
Baltimore, MD 21230
If you’re cruising or driving to the Inner Harbor, there’s a great temptation to head for the local bars surrounding Camden Yards or tucked into Little Italy. But a favorite change-up for me is right alongside the Inner Harbor Marina at The Rusty Scupper. The bar is a lively great place to catch an Orioles game on the telly. But the real trick here is sipping a cold beer on one of the outdoor decks, looking right down on the harbor and watching the water traffic just cruising by. For nibbles, it’s hard to beat the Maryland crab soup, mussels and crab cake.
80 Compromise Street
Annapolis, MD 21401
Annapolis and neighboring Eastport are awash in great bars. Our normal hangouts are McGarvey’s and Middletons, but for a scenic change-up with an evolving view directly on the storied “Ego Alley,” we head for Pusser’s. The name is derived from the popular Virgin Island rum that fueled the Royal Navy in the days of wooden ships and iron men. The rum is served here in great quantity and the famed Pusser’s Painkiller is in great demand, but the view from the outdoor bar is often the attraction on this narrow cut near the Naval Academy, where boaters parade their craft at all hours of day and night.
Haven Harbour Marina
20880 Rock Hall Ave.
Rock Hall, MD
It seems strange to call this a “change-up” bar because it occupies a prominent place at the head of a dock I called “home” for 15 years. Passages is an upper deck bar overlooking swan creek and the slips of Haven Harbour Marina. I bent an elbow here more than a few times, but it was usually on the way to or from another watering hole. Making it a destination for a change has a distinct advantage for boaters: Everyone here is one. You’ll have plenty to talk about and there’s a parade of changing faces as transient cruisers stop in for a cold one along with a bit of local knowledge about area waters. New this summer, Passages is being operated by the popular Fish Whistle eatery and bar in nearby Chestertown, MD.