And in furtherance of what appears to be a slight summertime "break" from the blog's Italian culinary theme, I figured I'd don my "night life" hat for a moment and share a review of one of the great summer-time destinations of all time: The Parker House, in Sea Girt, NJ.
Let me first qualify this review with some admirable context: I've been to some purportedly great beach bars up and down the east coast. I've spent a small fortune over the last few years attending bachelor parties across the country, where reservations have been made at poolside (sometimes "toptional") Vegas clubs and rooftop Austin bars. I've "done" Dewey Beach. I have a summer house in LBI where I frequent the Shell and the Hud. I've made many visits to the Hamptons, sampling the Drift Inn, the Talk House, and the Surf Lodge (which was a ton of fun by the way and, as I get older, could become my new favorite) and I've partied at most of the share-house populated bars near GS Pwky exit 98.
Trying to find the ultimate warm weather watering hole is a fixation of mine. I'm just not a big fan of cold weather and, frankly, can't understand how anyone can be; particularly when it comes to going out and enjoying a few cocktails. I find that everyone, myself included, is just a bit more happily drunk, just a bit more attractive after having the opportunity to roast all day in the sun and then broadcast their varying degrees of UV retention to the rest of the world while enjoying some cold bud lights and/or mixed drinks.
With all due respect to those other locales, there is one bar which tickles my tastes just a shade above the rest: the aforementioned Parker House (hereinafter referred to as "Parker" or "PH"). Who exactly are the Parkers and, in his wildest dreams, did old man Parker ever imagine that his bad ass beach Victorian would someday evolve into one of the most enthralling, provocative, and magical summertime meeting spots this side of the Mississippi? Perhaps we will never know, but we don't really need to now, do we; to borrow a phrase from the immortal Bernard "Beanie" Campbell, Columbus wasn't looking for America, my man, but that turned out to be pretty okay for everyone. As such, respect is merited regardless.
On a recent June 2012 weekend, I revisited the PH to reconfirm its greatness and, with perhaps Columbus-like audacity of my own, set out on a quest to more vigorously navigate PH's magical waters by attending both Friday AND Saturday festivities, while also sampling its outside bar menu.
Myself and a single buddy arrive on Friday a few minutes prior to Parker's Friday Happy Hour - an outrageous deal by today's standards: 6pm-9m, $1 Bud Lights. But prior to getting into that, we both sample their food on the back porch. This, too, is another tremendous deal. Check out the prices on the menu (above):
I select the steak sandwich, a miniburger with cheese, and a lobster - each with varying degrees of quality - the steak sandwich is tough but tasty and the slider is meaty, but overcooked. The real gem here is the lobster which, is not only a great deal, but meaty, sweet, and easily separable from the shell. All in, my pre binge-drinking base costs me around 15 bones. Tough to beat, even with the 30-40 minute wait.
And, to be fair, Parker does have a full service restaurant on the premises should you be looking for a slightly more relaxing environment vs. eating your steamed lobster at a stand-up table shaded by a beer umbrella. But for our interests at the time, this was just fine.
Speaking about what I came for, it was time to get down to business. So I finish my food, and head to the bathroom to wash off of the lobster juice from my hands. (Just in case I get hungry again, there's that menu again) on the bathroom wall.
One of the "dilemmas" one is faced with when experiencing the Parker House: "Upstairs or Downstairs?" I've actually witnessed friendly arguments revolve around this very issue, as if you must align yourself with one or the other, and, once you do, you will be forever held to this answer, which will then influence your life's path.
For those clueless, let me explain: Parker is essentially divided into two general areas: An upstairs and a downstairs, and the two areas each have their unique strong points. The upstairs, architecturally speaking, is the nicer area of the two. With it's green and white tiled floors, ceiling fans, flowing plants and higher ceilings, its setting still resembles old Victorian dimensions and character. But any prim and proper parallels essentially end there. The upstairs regularly features a DJ, mild-to-moderate fist pumping, a few prowling cougars, and a slightly more artificially tanned crowd.
The downstairs, conversely, is a bit different. It's considerably more claustrophobic than the upstairs with its tighter quarters and lower ceilings. A band provides its main musical accompaniment; if upstairs is Rihanna, downstairs is more Springsteen. It could also be said that a younger, yuppier crowd typically hangs downstairs.
Both levels feature multiple bars, shuffleboard tables, an energetic vibe, and a boat load of thirsty, festive peeps. And as I rinse my hands of lobster juices and adjust the hair, I'm comforted to find out that - even as a 31 year old gentleman - the Parker House's ability to inspire my inner collegiate spirit (Bucknell, for those wondering) remains as strong as ever. Both Friday and Saturday nights were a wonderful time.
Personally, I'm neither an upstairs or downstairs guy, exclusively speaking. I enjoy the wonderful offerings of both, often floating between levels at half hour intervals until I find my desired corner, perhaps sprinkling in a parly or two in Parker's backyard under the beautiful summertime sky, or bribing the upstairs DJ a with 5 spot to play the greatest song of all time - which has worked every time I've tried.
When the weekend was over, I lay in my motel bed - fiercely hungover, yes, but also fulfilled - knowing that the Parker House still reigns supreme as my favorite summertime bar. Anytime you can offer the simultaneous blend of a band, a DJ, a grill, beer games, a chill dress code, and a good looking clientele, you earn serious points in my book. I'm happy to report that the Parker House still has the magic.