TIME AND TIDES change everything down the shore. The beach, the towns, the people – they grow, they die.
It’s as inevitable as the waves, as sad as a seagull’s cry.
The end of the Summer of ’05 brings yet another change: Maloney’s Tavern on Washington Avenue in Margate will close forever. They’ll throw a farewell bash on Labor Day.
It was a classic shore bar. A boozy, jammed-packed joint where you cooled off with Solarcaine and Budweiser, where the shoobies danced, the DJs cranked up the noise and you met your summer love. You recognized half the crowd from your neighborhood back home. You might even have spotted a local celeb; ex-crime boss Joey Merlino used to hang out there, even got himself arrested once for leaving the bar with an open beer.
And, perhaps most notably, it was the starting point for Maloney’s Bike-a-Thon, a beer-fueled ride each September that stopped at nearly every bar between Margate and Wildwood. Over 29 years, according to Maloney’s owner George Naame, it raised $2 million for local charities.
Old-timers say there’s been a bar at the location, a block off the beach in the shadow of Lucy the Elephant, since 1908, changing names year after year. In 1956, a whiskey salesman from Darby named Jack Maloney bought it, and the name stuck.
Like most shore bars, Maloney’s ran on beer and rock ‘n’ roll, though it was never quite as rowdy as the clubs down on Amherst Avenue. There, on Margate’s so-called Barbary Coast, places like Gable’s, Maynard’s and the Elbow Room (now Jerry Blavat’s Memories) rocked all summer with the raucous sounds of the Soul Survivors, Billy Harner and the legendary Cookie Jar & the Crumbs.
Naame, who ran the Elbow Room, remembers the music like it’s still on his jukebox. “I loved it, the afternoon matinees. But rock ‘n’ roll was a tough business,” said Naame (rhymes with mommy). “The bands were hard to handle. “
So, longing for something slightly less crazy, Naame purchased Maloney’s in 1970. He never bothered to change the name, explaining, “I thought Maloney’s sounded a lot better than Naame’s, especially for an Irish bar.”
Under Naame’s ownership, Maloney’s grew into a rambling collection of two dining rooms and five bars, including an outdoor patio.
When he walks you around his place, he can’t help but point out the furnishings; there’s a story behind almost everything.
“We built that cooler over here. It holds 700 cases of beer,” Naame says, pulling open the heavy door.
The glass ceiling in the dining room, he said, was pulled from the Mexican Pavilion at the 1964 World’s Fair in New York. The shelves are from the pharmacy at Atlantic City’s Haddon Hall, the bar trim was pulled from the old Longport Inn, the dome lights upstairs are from the Breakers Hotel, the solid oak tables are from the Vienna Restaurant on the Boardwalk. “Bought ’em for $23 apiece,” he said.
“I doubt I’ll keep very much of this stuff,” he said. “I don’t want to be too sentimental. “
Indeed, as with any decent bar, it’s not the bricks and mortar, it’s the people who made Maloney’s.
As word spread this summer that the bar would close for good, reg’lars from the ’60s, the ’70s and later began streaming in for one last visit and a souvenir T-shirt. “We’ve got people as far away as Alaska coming back for the closing,” Naame said. “Every day, you look out in the bar, and you’ll see old-timers hugging and kissing each other when they recognize each other.
“That’s the gratifying part of the whole business. “
And it’s not just the customers. Over the years, Maloney’s was a reliable place for a summer job for hundreds of waitresses, line cooks, busboys and bartenders. “I probably hired over 1,000 young people over the years,” Naame said. “I got kids working for me, their parents worked for me, too. “
Lately, though, Maloney’s had grown quiet. Margate’s old three-bedroom houses – the ones that held a dozen jam-packed roomies – have been ripped down and replaced with sparse, million-dollar mansions. Their wealthy occupants – many of whom visit the island only a couple of times each year – aren’t the types to belly up in a smoky bar.
Maloney’s will be torn down to make way for luxury townhouses.
“You could see the handwriting on the wall,” Naame said. “This place was starting to go down a little bit. I went as far as I can go. “
On a wall, there’s a photo of him and his pal, John McKnight, bare-chested and pulling hard on the oars as they race to the 1958 Atlantic City doubles rowing championship. Today at 72, Naame looks only a bit softer;
he’ll keep active with two other bars, Uptown Maloney’s (Tennessee Avenue and the beach block, Atlantic City) and Maloney’s Pitney Tavern (200 S. Pitney Road, Absecon).
But this bar in Margate is a goner.
Some years ago, customers began a tradition at Maloney’s, sticking peeled beer labels to the bar’s low ceiling. Thousands of them – Rolling Rock, Bud Light, Miller – stuck up on the ceiling.
Each one is a memory, faded like a ghost. The shore changes, but memories survive, even after Maloney’s last call.
Just one look in the curbside recycling bins tells you there’s no shortage of beer at the shore. Mostly it’s Lite and Corona; good beer, unfortunately, is hard to find. Just down the street from Maloney’s is the Wine Cove (11 N. Washington Ave., Margate) a takeout store that, despite its grapey name, stocks an unusual selection of large bottles of Belgians, Germans and American micros. On the Mainland, Circle Liquors (1 MacArthur Circle, Somers Point) is a convenient spot before heading into the dry O.C. I found Heavyweight’s extraordinary Black Saison there a couple of weeks ago. In Atlantic City, Firewaters (Tropicana ground floor, just off the Boardwalk) boasts 50 taps and 100 very good bottles. Though Tun Tavern (Michigan Avenue, at the Sher-aton Hotel) is capable of producing an occasional well-made pint, sadly it mostly serves dumbed-down versions of routine (read: golden, red & brown) ales . . .
Good news down at the Linc, and I’m not talking about the return of T.O. After ignoring my gripes and those of other craftbrew fans for the past three years, the Eagles have finally relented and are now pouring locally made beer. According to early reports from my beer-drinking buddies, bottles of Yards, Victory and Flying Fish are now available in the stands . . .
Pennsylvania takes yet another step out of the alcohol Stone Age this weekend. For the first time since the Prohibition, beer distributors may open on Sundays, from noon to 5 p.m. . . .
Sept. 13 – The Greatest Beers of the World, beer fest at Village Hall (Spread Eagle Shopping Center, Wayne). The charity event, with beers from Magic Hat, Stoudt’s Sierra Nevada, Duvel and others, features keynote speaker Fritz Maytag of Anchor Brewing. Tix: $100, benefits American Red Cross. Beer pours: 5:30-9:30 p.m. Info: 215-299-4022.
Sept. 13 – St. Feullien beer dinner at Monk’s Cafe (16th and Spruce streets, Center City). One of Belgium’s few female brewery owners, Dominique Friart, brings a supply of her traditional ales. Tix: $65. Dinner served: 7:30 p.m. Info: 215-545-7005. *
Joe Sixpack, by staff writer Don Russell, was written this week with a bottle of New Holland Paleooza.