The Guilty Pleasure
On the hottest day of the summer, I found myself sitting not under an umbrella by the ocean, but on a wooden deck surrounded by a bunch of half-naked, mostly-intoxicated men.
If you think this was some sort of sunstroke-induced mirage, you’d be wrong. It was just another Sunday afternoon at the Starboard in Dewey Beach. The girls were scantily clothed too, but I wasn’t paying attention.
I was there with my friend “Tuesday Weld,” a buxom blonde aficionado of all things Dewey. She was introducing me to a cocktail known as a Ruby Red Crush.
Most gay guys are reluctant to explore Dewey Beach, the sandbar sliver of a town between the ocean and the bay just south of Rehoboth known for its public intoxication, urination, and fornication. Not me. I like a little shot of howling hetero hedonism every now and then. It’s kind of like watching MTV’s Jersey Shore. A guilty pleasure.
Ironically, one of the first gay bars in Rehoboth was actually in Dewey, at the end of Bellevue Street right on Rehoboth Bay. Established originally in the 1930s as the Dewey Inn, it was re-christened the Boathouse in 1973. Patrons recall it as a low-slung, white frame building owned by a straight couple and their gay friend and patrolled for safety by beefy bouncers from the University of Delaware football team.
Besides a dance floor able to accommodate a large popper sniffing disco crowd, there was at the rear of the building a second bar with a bank of open windows overlooking a dock, a pier, and the bay. It wasn’t air conditioned, and at high tide the rear bar would frequently flood, which added to the festivities.
When the music was rocking and the crowd was socking and the bay water was seeping in, you knew you were at the beach and in some place special. It mysteriously burned down after a few years.
Bars and drinking have long been part of Dewey Beach culture. Back in the 1870s, people frequented the Douglass House because it didn’t have the restrictions against drinking and playing cards that hotels had in Rehoboth proper. During WWII, the Bottle & Cork catered to servicemen from all over the Eastern Shore.
Things started to spin out of control during the 1970s and early 1980s, when the young professional summer crowd moved down from Rehoboth in search of inexpensive housing and a party beach free from rules. It hasn’t slowed down, and the result is that today Dewey Beach is a wild summer party town, this according to Wikipedia.
To experience Dewey properly, you must imbibe. And I will argue that there are four signature cocktails, the pursuit of which will provide you with the quintessential Dewey Beach experience.
Start out with an Orange Crush at the Lighthouse Restaurant and Bar at 124 Dickenson Street. Savor the mélange of orange flavored vodka, triple sec, juice of a whole orange, and crushed ice. Try one or two during Taco Toss, the super popular Friday night happy hour party at the Lighthouse and feel your body bumping and grinding with the music and the crowd. And, yes, they really do serve tacos. Hot dogs too, for a dollar.
Next door to the Lighthouse is Que Pasa, home to what everyone swears are the best Marga-ritas in town. This plein air bar on the bay attracts a slightly older and mellower crowd for happy hour and sunset.
The most popular weekend “watch the sunset and chill out” cocktail in Dewey Beach, however, is a pinkish concoction known as a Dewey Devil. They serve up this slushy blend of light rum, 151 rum, blackberry brandy, orange juice, strawberries, and cream at Northbeach (125 McKinley Street), which is right on the bay and a little off the beaten path. Hit it on Saturday afternoon/early evening. Ask for a floater on top to cut the sweetness.
Chill out is a phrase you will never ever hear at the Starboard on Route One and Salisbury Street. This unpretentious beach bar is the heart of party hardy Dewey Beach and home to the final two cocktails on our little drinks tour de Dewey.
The Starboard says they’ve got the best Bloody Mary bar in the world. They just might be right: a big glass of vodka and over 300 ingredients and mixers to choose from. Drunken straight boys with barbed wire arm tats and cougars on the prowl make for great entertainment. Go for brunch on Saturday or Sunday.
The Ruby Red Crush is first cousin to the Orange Crush and the most popular cocktail at the bar. Substitute grapefruit for orange and cut the triple sec. The Starboard claims it sells more Absolut Ruby Red vodka than any other bar in the country. These libations come in sixteen ounce plastic cups and are best enjoyed, I think, after Bloodies on a Sunday afternoon.
Be careful: these cocktails are refreshing and surprisingly powerful. On a sunny afternoon one leads to three leads to five and the next thing you know the music is good and you’re delirious with alcohol and wondering why you don’t spend more time in Dewey. Then, someone throws up on your foot and you realize why you don’t. Geez, but it was fun while it lasted.
Reach Rich Barnett at rehobothwithrich.blogspot.com.