Today Margate is mainly sushi bars and condos, but at one time, it was the place to go to have a great time. They called it the “Barbary Coast” because of the image of drunken debauchery, but for many locals and tourists, it was.
The strip went along the bay front to Washington Avenue and then to beach.
If you came from the south, from the Somers Point – Ocean City causeway, the first bar you came to was Kelly Voght’s rickety old nightclub that stretched out over the bay, an old wooden clapboard building reminiscent of Bayshores. Then there was the Longport Inn, an eating and drinking establishment where many of the power brokers met. Both have been leveled and are now condos.
Heading north along the bay you then came to Strotbeck’s, a private club, now Steve & Cookies, and faithfully maintained, where the food is good and the music is smooth jazz. A block in from the bay was Moylans, a small corner, seasonal, neighborhood bar, with a low ceiling, and dark, with no windows and a good juke box.
Back on the bay, heading north on Amherst Avenue is Jerry Blavat’s Memories (formerly the Elbo Room), which is still going strong with the Geater with the Heater, the Boss with the Hot Sauce spinning the discs for dancers and the radio audience.
Next along the line was the Harbor Inn, where at one time, not long ago, they had ten beers for a dollar. On the next corner was Merrel’s, where Lew London, the East Coast Aces, Bobby Campanell and the original Shakes played before it became Gilhooley’s, a brass and glass joint.
Next door is the venerable Maynards, the last of the old time Barbary Coast Saloons, where the late, Al Triano orchestrated the party, and where you can get cheep draft beer, a hot sandwich off the grill, a bowl of peanuts, and leave the shells on the floor.
On the corner, where there is now a sushi bar, there used to be Kelly’s corner bar, with a pool table and juke box, and attached to Gables, one of the premier rock and roll bars on the East Coast. Once said to be a bowling alley, the huge nightclub had multiple bars, dance floor and a stage where Energized and the Exceptions were the house bands who opened for major acts like John Kay and Steppenwolf.
Around the corner across the street, there was Omar’s, a neighborhood bar that was once called the Nickelodeon, a bust out joint which featured live bands, before it too became a fancy restaurant and then, condos.
There is also the Barn pizza hut, a popular pit stop for generations, and another popular late night pizza place down Washington Ave., before you got to Maloney’s, one of the most popular local pubs until it was raised and condoed out a few years ago.
Just past Maloney’s, on the corner, was the White House, also known as Reds as it was Red Klots’ sports bar. Klots owns the Washington Generals (Nationals) professional basketball team, who faithfully maintain an unblemished record of having lost every one of their games to the Harlem Globetrotters. When Klot’s son Glenn was old enough, he turned Reds into a disco, and then a New Wave bar, the Ivory, with radical bands like the Ramones and the Hooters, who played there in the 80s.
Then it became a disco again, and was a favorite hangout of seasonal neighbor, “Skinny” Joey Merlino, the nominal head of the old Philadelphia mob. Then it was leveled into a parking lot before it was condoed.
Across the street on the beach is the Green House, where the octogenarian Flintstones band used to play in the low ceiling beach bar. They really were old coots playing in a band that really had a good time. Now it’s Ventura’s Green House, and features fine Italian food, a good pizza and sandwich grill and a popular deck just off of Thong Beach.
A block down from the Green House was the Beach Bar, where you could walk in off the beach in your bare feet and get a cold one, which was developed into a high rise in the early 80s.
Where ever you went at the Barbary Coast, at the end of the night, after shooting pool, drinking and dancing to the live bands, everyone eventually ended up at Lenny’s Hot Dog Stand.
By three or four in the morning there was a line at Lenny’s where people stood around mingling, talking, eating hot dogs, and getting ready to take a nap on the beach, or reluctantly go home.
Things were like that for decades, but eventually, the party had to end. A number of things led to the end of that era, including the lowering of the drinking age to eighteen, the increase in DWI arrests and accidents, and sensational news reports of a young women found dead on a boat from a drug overdose, another women being raped on the beach by a professional athlete,
The increase in the value of the real estate market and the development of condos forced the college and group rental crowd to find another neighborhood, and the seedy bars were transformed into classy, brass and glass restaurants.
And today, as they sit around sipping champagne in their waterfront condos and at the sushi bars, it seems that the people who have never been to Margate’s Barbary Coast in its heyday, just don’t know what a good time is.