Moving on From the Parker House

The Parker House is a Jersey Shore institution that has left indelible joyous memories in the minds of countless patrons for many decades. It was just several years ago that it was still in its heyday. My summer Friday night ritual would be to leave work in the city (before working from home was a thing), head south on the Parkway, get off at Exit 98, quickly park at my shore house, and head straight to Parker House where most of my friends were already partying.

Sometimes I would wait on the outside line for the grill for some hockey puck-sliders, but since the wait could potentially kill half the night, most nights I would just not eat dinner.

DJ George was playing the upstairs and our crew would corner the dance floor. Other pockets of friends would cram into the area at the bar across from the dance floor.

We would brave the jammed staircase to the basement to shove our way across the crowded dance floor to Will’s bar for Washington Apple shots. Undisputed would be playing in a makeshift stage which was more of a small area that barely fit them and their equipment. The basement had terrible drainage and air circulation; there was a persistent puddle of black mung on the basement floor just in front of the First Avenue exit. On a humid night, you could almost see the stench floating in the air.

None of the overcrowding and other non-sanitary conditions were ever a problem. We had a blast. We would do laps around both floors and move between them both with regularity, and there would be a friendly face no matter where we went. It was organized chaos.

The big enabler of all this was the Parker House VIP card. People treated them like gold. You had to either get extremely lucky to win one or have someone sign theirs over to you (with a letter and a copy of their driver’s license) to get one. You would have to drive to the Parker House on renewal night in May every year to wait on a ridiculously long line to pay to renew it… or risk losing it forever.

Some people I know had more than one VIP card. Some had a dozen! They would dole them out to friends as they saw fit and re-collect them at the end of the summer. It was well worth the $80 it cost to not have to wait in the hour-long maze-line with the ham-and-eggers who did not have a VIP card. There was also value in not having to pay the $10 cover charge for entry; the card would pay for itself in a matter of weeks.

Well, those were the days. And those days at the Parker House are in the distant past. Even before COVID-19 decimated the service and hospitality industry, Parker House was in a rapid and steep decline. Around 2016, I noticed the VIP line getting longer than the non-VIP line. Every year, the price of renewal would rise, to the point it almost doubled in three years. It was no longer worth the investment unless you went most Friday and Saturday nights. They moved on from DJ George, and the upstairs bar lost all its character.

Several factors were working against Parker House, but my theory is that rapidly rising housing prices in Sea Girt were the main culprit. The Parker House has been under pressure to reduce nuisances caused by drunken patrons coming and going from the bar. They had to make several changes to reduce noise. They started to raise the price of the VIP card renewal which appeared to be a move to attract a “more mature” clientele.  A vocal minority of residents in the area demanded it.

The big bomb was when the Parker House was forced to shut the upstairs bar at night on Friday and Saturday nights in 2018 to reduce capacity. This was really the last straw for me, as it made the venue totally un-enjoyable. Who wants to be crammed into a dingy basement when the weather is beautiful in July and August?

While it might be nice to visit once or twice a season for the sake of nostalgia, the days of Parker House being the mandatory first stop on Friday and Saturday night are over.

It takes courage to break the Parker House habit and move on. I had to buy the VIP Card one last time and take a $90 bath on it before I realized I should not renew it. I also had to try to organize trips to other venues. As it turned out, I had a good first summer without my Parker House VIP card.

The best part of the Jersey Shore is spending time there with friends. Now that the Parker House is no longer an automatic destination, what should we do? Where should we go for that first stop of the weekend? Can we re-create the Cheers-like atmosphere that we once had at Parker House? There are plenty of options within a twenty-minute cab ride of the Parker House. Let us look at some of them and think this through.

Bar Anticipation

703 16th Avenue, Lake Como

Another Jersey Shore institution just a short trip from Parker House. Bar A offers an expanse of indoor and outdoor standing and seating areas. It even has two VIP sections.

Verdict: A top choice to replace Parker House.

D’Jai’s Oceanview Bar & Café

801 Ocean Ave, Belmar

It does not get any more Jersey Shore than this! It is hard not to have fun at D’Jai’s happy hour on Friday. Saturday tends to get a bit more crowded.

Verdict: A little too loud and chaotic to be our every night spot, but we will get our happy hours in!

The Columns

610 Ocean Ave, Avon-By-The-Sea

An offshoot of the Parker House that accepts your Parker House VIP card! Just a few years back the Columns was to be avoided at all costs, but it changed up the entertainment lineup to attract a more contemporary crowd. Problem is there is a line to get in even with the VIP card.

Verdict: Nope.

Watermark

800 Ocean Avenue, Asbury Park

A slightly more refined experience than what you would find in Belmar. I do not hold that against the place, though. Fine cocktails at an indoor and outdoor lounge overlooking the Atlantic.

Verdict: Would be perfect but is a little too far from the Exit 98 area to be our every weekend spot.

Martell’s Tiki Bar

308 Boardwalk, Point Pleasant Beach

One of the only bars in Jersey that is built over the ocean makes it the perfect place to spend a beautiful summer evening, and the bar menu has something for everybody.

Verdict: This would work but let us save it for Tiki Monday!

Spring Lake Tap House

810 NJ-71 Spring Lake

Spring Lake Tap House has come a long way from the days it was a townie bar named The Porch. Even still, it lacks outdoor space and is not interesting.

Verdict: Does not stack up to the competition.

Marina Grille

905 River Road, Belmar

A beautiful newer building with sweeping views of the Shark River, a perfect spot for a happy hour while watching the sun set to the west.  Sit indoors or outdoors and enjoy a menu that the Parker House wishes it had.

Verdict: This place has everything we need, could be the spot we need to replace Parker House.

Jenk’s

300 Ocean Ave, Point Pleasant Beach

If you have ever been to the Jersey Shore, you have been to Jenk’s. The recent expansion of the outdoor area makes it even an even more attractive destination. If you are going to spend your summer at the shore, might as well party on the beach!

Verdict: A strong candidate to replace Parker House.

Leggets Sand Bar

217 1st Ave, Manasquan

Leggets calls itself “Jersey Shore’s #1 Destination”. That might be a bit of a stretch. It is fun to stop by Leggets here and there, but it tends to get crowded, and the patrons can get a little rowdy!

Verdict: Keep it to a few late evening stops each summer, or go on Sunday for live music.

Patio Bar at The Wharfside

101 Channel Drive, Point Pleasant Beach

Beautifully located on the Manasquan River with live music and a robust menu. It is a quick shot to the Jenk’s and Tiki from there.

Verdict: A great, relaxed setting to hang with your friends and start the weekend right.

Reef and Barrel

153 Sea Girt Ave, Manasquan

If there was one place worse than the Parker House to start out your evening, Reef and Barrel would be it.  I would not recommend happy hour or late night at Reef and Barrel, there are tons of other places that are more suitable options.

Verdict: lololol

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