Nobody’s ever going to mistake the Wildwoods Boardwalk for a swanky shopping street like Rodeo Drive or Michigan Avenue – hell, or even Chestnut Street – but there’s an unmistakable trend toward the upscale along the old Boards.
It probably started with the then-new Wildwoods Convention Center, which is still the crown jewel of the Boardwalk, and has attracted a diverse lineup of attractions from roller derby and the Globetrotters to Delia’s marathon sales. It’s a sleek, up-to-date, well-operated venue that speaks well of this island.
Other new Boardwalk locales are reflecting this more modern look that began with the scalloped silhouette of the Convention Center. Going north from the Center, I’d say that the Doo Wop Diner between Youngs and Spencer Avenues is the ginchy-est eaterie on the Boards, full-tilt Fifties with black-and-white checkerboard floor, a big-ass Wurlitzer jukebox, hot waitresses in poodle skirts, and a real-life soda fountain right out of Archie. My man George definitely has the touch … check out his Yummy Treats store a couple doors north of the Doo Wop: great neon work and actual treats. George took out the seats he originally had in Yummy Treats because he saw that it attracted a lot of jitterbugs who just wanted to hang out. Good move, bro.
Jumbo’s, in the shadow of the Ferris wheel, was the first upscale restaurant on the Boardwalk, but the Morey organization still retained the salty, open-air flavor of a downashore dining spot while ratcheting the menu a few clicks above the usual Boardwalk fare. My film partners loved to eat here back when we shot our “Boardwalk” movie (available, ahem, through this watchthetramcarplease.com blogsite.)
The Moreys are admittedly preoccupied with upscaling the Boardwalk, and it shows in their projects to date. Right there preaching the upscale gospel with them and putting her money where her mouth is is my pal Michelle Rutkowski, the bouncy pixie who blushes at being called “Queen of the Boardwalk.” Her latest blockbuster is Five-Mile Marketplace, across from Jumbo’s and one of the biggest seashore variety stores I’ve ever seen – and I’ve been on most of the boardwalks in America. Michelle has an unerring eye for quality. Take a walk through and check out her goods if you doubt my slanted word. She also has Boardwalk’s Best variety at Glenwood and the Boardwalk and her original store a little south of the Doo Wop bathrooms at 25th Street. Michelle Rutkowski has raised the bar for the Boardwalk. Yo.
Around the corner from Five-Mile Marketplace is Chickie’s & Pete’s, new this year, and featuring a spectacular mural of – what else? – French fries. I’m not sure that the location will insure the long-term presence of Chickie’s & Pete’s, but here’s hoping.
On the ocean side of the Boardwalk at Magnolia Ave. is the ultra-cool Stewart’s Root Beer, updated art deco, all sleek curves and angles, perfectly neon lit, and capped by the revolving sign on the roof. At night, this might be the most memorable store on the Boardwalk.
The nexus of the Boardwalk around 26th Street could well be called Upscale Alley because that’s where there’s a cluster of cool new restaurants and and other new stuff , starting with the new Sam’s Pizza Palace, a deceptively simple design highlighted by the classy crimson awning. Truth to tell, I’ve never seen lines this long at Sam’s in all the years I’ve been tramping the boards. And the new motel behind Sam’s is growing by the proverbial leaps and bounds.
Sand Jamm Surf Shop, a little diagonal from Sam’s on the ocean side, has always been a highline operation, even at its old store, and this location ups the ante. Quality high end brand names are the specialties of the Jamm and there’s also a great line of Sand Jamm clothes, hats, etc.
Next to Sand Jamm, it’s fantasyland. Adventure Maze and Palace of Sweets look like an Alice In Wonderland storybook, all pennants and Crayola colors, twinkling and winking night and day. They even imported a big time maze-maker for this adventure. Check ’em both out … you can eat candy while you get lost in the maze.
Cap’n Jack’s and Joe’s Fish Co. are the star turns restaurant-wise at the 26th Street intersection, capped by the giant Seafood sign that announces the presence of Joe’s. The Captain’s table is set with island food, and Joe’s even throws in Curley’s Fries with their seafood, the famous fry-maker being actually in the same building. You get a terrific view of the Boards from the second floor of Cap’n Jack’s and the upstairs at Joe’s looks right onto the pier. Both are classy new additions.
But, to me, the re-done Gateway 26 building is right up there with the Convention Center as a candidate for Boardwalk Crown Jewel. It shows what can be done with a great design for a new facade. The colors are ultra-modern: the rich purple over-facade fits perfectly the aqua background for the red Gateway 26 sign with a black runner underneath it, all perfectly complementing the two video screens showing the Gateway specials. Again, it’s a tribute to what vision and a new facade can achieve. It’s almost like getting a new Boardwalk for that stretch of the Boards. It is symbolic of the new, modern spirit afoot on the Wildwoods Boardwalk.
BUT … don’t fret, Boardwalkers, no amount of upscaling can ever replace the true, heartfelt honky-tonk of the Wildwoods Boardwalk. As long as they’re making tee-shirts and stuffed animals, it’ll always be there.