Regular visitors to Delmarva beaches have places that they always visit: the stretch of sand that's never too rocky; the waterfront eatery with a perfect view; the laid-back beach bar that makes a perfect frozen margarita. It's tempting to think that these magic spots will stay the same. But beach resorts, like other cities, are evolving organisms; new businesses open, popular chefs expand their empires, and decades-old restaurants fade away or are revamped.
This year is no different at the popular Delaware and Maryland beaches along the Coastal Highway. Even Bethany Beach, often praised and derided as "The Quiet Resort" for its unhurried atmosphere, has big changes on the horizon. Here's a look at the new arrivals and changes from Rehoboth down to Ocean City.
The biggest news coming out of Rehoboth concerns Hari Cameron, the chef and owner of a(MUSE) restaurant. A semifinalist for the James Beard Award for Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic earlier this year, Cameron announced that he and his brother Orion are opening Grandpa (MAC), a casual pasta-focused restaurant and carry-out, at 33 Baltimore Ave. The restaurateurs hope to dish out Trailer Park Mac and other specialties by the end of the month.
Longtime pub favorite Stoney Lonen closed its doors during the offseason and is now 208 Social. The new owners kept the warren of rooms and the patio, but have upgraded the menu. Don't overlook the cocktails, which feature housemade juices and syrups; the savory El Maguey draws its flavors from pineapples charred on the grill before being juiced and mixed with mezcal, ginger syrup and lemon.
All the action isn't downtown: Two new bars opened across the canal in West Rehoboth last week. The Swell Tiki Bar, which replaced Big Sissies on Rehoboth Avenue, isn't your usual kitschy tiki bar - the decor is surprisingly restrained. The sticky-sweet house cocktail, Hippie Juice, includes Bacardi, Malibu coconut rum and Watermelon Pucker. DJs and karaoke provide entertainment on weekends.
Down the block, Murph's Beef and Ale is a bare-bones Irish pub-style restaurant specializing in roast beef and roast pork sandwiches, plates of roasted Italian hot peppers and fries smothered in beef or turkey gravy. Yuengling and Guinness are on tap, but the menu also features such sweet, boozy cocktails as the Tropic Thunder (coconut water vodka, pineapple juice and club soda).
Farther away from the beach, the Fins Ale House on Coastal Highway is now a brewpub. The Big Oyster Brewery, located next door to the dining room, released a test batch of its first beer, Summer Hefe, an unfiltered, easy-drinking hefeweizen, last weekend, and another keg is scheduled to go on tap on Memorial Day weekend. Fins makes the most of its strip mall location, setting up corn hole in the parking lot while offering a good selection of oysters and seafood. (A real crowd-pleaser: The potato skins stuffed with crab, scallops and shrimp before being smothered in cheese.)
When the Dewey Beer Co., Dewey Beach's first brewpub, finally opens later this month, five beers will flow from gleaming bright tanks behind the bar, including an aromatic American Pale Ale, dry-hopped with Centennial, and a zesty Summer Saison brewed with a French saison yeast.
Brewer Mike Reilly, a high school science teacher, is at work on 10 beers, but he thinks the offerings will change frequently throughout the year. "It's the balance between approachable and the slightly extreme," he says.
The building itself, formerly home to Theo's and Bubba's, has been given a makeover that co-owner Clinton Bunting describes as "coastal industrial," which translates to exposed wooden joists, accents of corrugated metal, and black-and-white photos of old Dewey life. The kitchen is open, and the bar offers views into the brewery. Walls facing Route 1 include a series of garage doors, which roll up in warm weather.
A soft opening is planned for Tuesday, with a full debut next weekend. The brewery had planned to open last spring, but disputes with neighbors and the town planning commission repeatedly pushed back the start. In the process of receiving its liquor license, Dewey Beer Co. agreed to a number of restrictions: It won't have live music or outdoor seating, and it will close at 11:30 p.m., which Bunting doesn't think will be an issue. "Our goal is not to get people drunk," he says. "Our goal is for people to enjoy good-quality beer and food."
Bunting says the menu will be “same as the beer – local and seasonal. I’m fifth-generation resident of Sussex County, and I want people to remember what it was like: We’ll have chicken and dumplings, we’ll include scrapple, and whatever fish is running.”
Over the last few months, a new building has sprouted on Route 1 near Sea Colony - a simple barnlike building next to a gazebo extending over a man-made lake. The Bethany Boathouse, with a design inspired by the historic Indian River Life-Saving Station in Delaware Seashore State Park, comes from the owners of Bethany's 22-year-old Cottage Cafe restaurant. The Boathouse will be more casual than its sister across the street, with 100 outdoor seats and a menu featuring sandwiches, burgers and fried chicken. Live entertainment is planned for late afternoons and early evenings on the deck, with late-night music moving inside to the 100-seat dining room "two or three nights a week." An opening is planned for Thursday.
Bethany Blues, known for its St. Louis-style pork ribs and pulled-pork sandwiches, gave its bar a substantial upgrade over the winter. The new copper-topped counter is surrounded by flat-screen televisions, high-top tables and plenty of standing room. Beyond adding comfort, the changes allowed Bethany Blues to up its offerings: There are now 15 taps, up from six, including rotating taps from locals Evolution and 16 Mile, and a menu of around 40 bourbons and rye whiskeys. Most are $7 or less per pour, making this an affordable place to linger for a drink after dinner.
This year's theme in Ocean City is expansion, in terms of openings and outdoor additions. (In less happy news, the forthcoming Hyatt Hotel on 16th Street caused the closure of the popular "five-star dive" Peppers Tavern.)
Two years ago, Baltimore's popular Ropewalk Tavern opened its first outpost at the beach, a two-level oyster house in Fenwick Island. On Friday Ropewalk unveils its mammoth 600-seat Ocean City location, which takes over the former Fresco's on 83rd Street. Plans call for "a deck the size of an NFL football field" overlooking Assawoman Bay, a waterfront bar with fire pits on a sandy beach, a kid-friendly playground, and live entertainment, which owner Marc McFaul describes as "Jimmy Buffet-style bands and dueling pianos," with steel pans performers at happy hour.
Buddy's Crabs and Ribs, a fixture in downtown Annapolis, expanded to Ocean City earlier this month, moving into the scenic waterfront real estate next to the White Marlin Marina. Buddy's has made the most of the former Bahama Mama's space: A shaded tiki hut, palm trees and rows of picnic tables surround a large bar, and every seat offers views of boats sailing into and out of the Ocean City Inlet. The drinks are predictable, running from 16-ounce cans of Natty Boh ($2.50) to a variety of fruity crushes, including a basic Orange Crush ($5.50). There's live music on the deck on Saturday afternoons.
Assawoman Bay Brewing Company is the latest entry to Ocean City's burgeoning beer scene. The brewery began operations last summer in the 45th Street Shopping Village, supplying beers to the neighboring 45th Street Taphouse, OC Steamers and the 9th Street Taphouse. Work is underway on a full-fledged brewpub at 45th Street, replacing the Shallow Waters restaurant, but for now it's worth the trip to sit on the 45th Street Taphouse's waterfront deck, sip a malty Red Head Rye Ale or peppery Pony Swim IPA and watch boats sail on the clear waters of Isle of Wight Bay. (Pedants will note that the brewery is just south of Assawoman Bay proper.) Tours of the brewing facility are offered on weekends.
Live music got a double boost in Ocean City this year. The Ocean City Convention Center officially unveiled its new Performing Arts Center in January, a 1,200-seat venue for concerts and theater. The wide-ranging entertainment appeals to an audience who doesn’t want to see a cover band at the Purple Moose Saloon: Upcoming events include Hal Holbrook in “Mark Twain Tonight” (June 6), Three Tenors and a Diva (June 27) and Graham Nash (Aug. 7). And in West Ocean City, the old Trader Lee’s nightclub has morphed into the O.C. House of Rock, with local bands performing on the renovated stage every weekend.