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.


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.


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

Spring Grilling Ideas

Today’s advice column is in response to a question submitted by a fellow North New Jerseyan from neighboring Bergen County about grilling.

Dear North Jersey Nonconformist,

Now that spring time is here, thoughts of grilling are dancing in my head.  Unfortunately I seem to always grill the same thing… Pork Tenderloin, rubbed with some random spice I find in the cabinet.  It’s very tasty, but getting a little redundant.  Any suggestions on interesting grilling recipes?


Karl in Bergen County

Thank you for your question, Karl.  Grilling is a subject near and dear to my heart and you’ve come to the right place for advice.  I have three parts to my answer.  I’ll cover the topics of grilling technique, interesting grilling ideas, and book recommendations.

Grilling Technique

The suggestion I make when asked advice about grilling is to understand the two basic techniques, direct and indirect grilling.  Direct grilling is what most people do and it has many useful purposes.  Indirect grilling (sometimes referred to as barbecuing) is an entirely different method of grilling that opens a whole new range of possibilities.

  • Direct Grilling is grilling meat directly over a source of heat. Typically on a gas grill, all of the burners would be on, and on a charcoal grill there would be a thin layer of hot coals on the bottom of the grill.  Direct grilling is best for meats that take a short period of time to cook, where the outside will be seared and the inside will be cooked to a safe doneness temperature.  Things that can be grilled directly are standards such hot dogs, hamburgers, chicken cutlets, pork chops, and steaks.
  • Indirect Grilling is the act of grilling meat over a cool spot on a covered grill while the heat source surrounds it. On a gas grill, this would mean only turning on one or two of the burners on and placing your meat over one that is off.  On a charcoal grill, the coals are placed in baskets on the sides of the grill and the meat is placed in the middle.  In both cases, put a drip pan under the meat.  This technique will increase grilling time but will allow your meat to cook at an even temperature without burning the outside.  This method opens things up to a wide range of possibilities such as whole chicken, whole turkey, and ribs.

A rule of thumb is that anything that takes less than 25 minutes should be grilled over direct heat, and anything that takes longer than that should be grilled over indirect heat.  Indirect grilling can be made easier if you know the doneness temperature of your meat and you have an instant read thermometer handy.

Rubs, sauces, or mops will enhance the flavor of meats that are grilled indirectly.

  • Rubs are typically made of a mixture of dry herbs and spices. They are sold at any supermarket and can easily be made at home with ingredients that you’d typically have in your spice rack.  For example, if I ever need a rub, I’ll throw together a few teaspoons of brown sugar, kosher salt, ground pepper, paprika, and garlic powder.  Give your meat a thorough coat of rub before putting it on the grill.
  • Barbecue Sauces are sauces that are made with sugar. They will burn if they are on the grill for too long so it is best to apply a sauce to meat towards the last 10 minutes of grilling time so it will caramelize but not burn.
  • Barbecue Mops are sauces that are more acidic than sugary and can be applied to meat throughout its grilling time because they won’t burn. Many of them are cider or vinegar based.

I encourage you to read your grill’s instruction manual and practice indirect grilling.  These are the basic steps:

  1. Apply a rub to your meat.
  2. Set an alarm on an instant read thermometer to the doneness temperature of your meat.
  3. Set up your grill for indirect grilling and place a drip pan under the cool spot on the grill.
  4. Place your meat on the cool spot of the grill and keep it covered until it is done. Only open the grill to apply more barbecue mop, or barbecue sauce.  Mops can be applied throughout the grilling process, sauces towards the end.

Interesting Grilling Ideas

Three of my favorite things to grill are all done indirectly.  They take some extra time to grill, but I find that the end product is worth it.

Beer Can Chicken

This is a unique way to grill a chicken that will crisp the skin but keep the insides most and juicy.  A little rub and sauce will top your bird off nicely.  You can easily search for recipes for beer can chicken online and I’ll make a few author recommendations below.  I’ll outline the basic steps here.

First, you’ll need about a 4 pound chicken.  Clean it off and remove the giblets.  Rub it all over with your favorite rub and sprinkle some of the rub inside the body and neck cavities.  Drizzle a tablespoon of oil on the outside of bird and rub that in as well.

Next, you’ll need a can of beer.  My favorite is Pabst Blue Ribbon, but any 12 ounce can will do.  Drink half the beer (my favorite part of making Beer Can Chicken), and punch two more holes in the top of the can with a keyhole opener.  Sprinkle a few teaspoons of rub inside of the can.

Set the grill up for indirect grilling.  Shove the can up the chicken’s ass and stand it up like a tripod on the grill.  Insert an instant read thermometer into the deepest part of the thigh and grill until it reaches 170O F. Optionally, you can coat the chicken with barbecue sauce within the last 10 minutes of grilling, roughly when the thermometer reaches 160O. Remove the chicken from the grill and let it stand for 10 minutes before removing the can and carving it up.  The skin will be crisp and the chicken will be moist throughout.

Baby Back Ribs

I still recall the first time I tried to make ribs on a grill.  I bought some barbecue sauce and some ribs, applied the sauce to the ribs and grilled them over direct heat.  They tasted like raw meat wrapped in carbon paper.  That was a lightbulb moment for me and it was when I taught myself indirect grilling so that I would never ruin another rack of ribs.

I know people who like to pre-broil ribs inside of aluminum foil in the stove before grilling them.  This step is unnecessary if you know how to properly grill ribs.  Here’s what you do.

Get as many racks of pork baby back ribs as you can fit on the cool spot of your grill.  Most backyard grills can hold about two racks of ribs, they may need to be cut in half.

Using a paring knife, remove the membrane from the back of the ribs by slipping the knife between the membrane and bones.  Once you have an opening, you can pull it off with your hands.  You don’t want to grill ribs with the membrane still on the back, it will take the consistency of plastic by the time it is done.

Set up the grill for indirect grilling and rub the ribs with your favorite rub.  Optionally, you can marinade the ribs for 8 hours ahead of time.

Grill the ribs over indirect heat for 1½ hours.  You can apply your favorite sauce in the last 10 minutes of grilling time.  Reserve some of the sauce for serving.

Let the ribs sit for 20 minutes after removing them from the grill.  They should be pulled back from the bones and tender when they are done, and it should come off pretty easily.

Bacon Explosion

This is an offbeat recipe that has many variations available on line, I like the one I found on bbqaddicts and made it several times.  It only has four basic ingredients, 2 pounds of bacon, 2 pounds of Sweet Italian Sausage removed from their casings, barbecue rub, and barbecue sauce.

Cook one pound of the bacon to your desired doneness.  Chop it into bite-sized pieces and set it aside.

With the other pound of bacon, make a 5×5 weave and sprinkle it with some of the rub.  Spread the sausage out on top of the weave.  Top the sausage with more rub, the cooked bacon bits, and some sauce.  Roll the sausage up and then roll the weave around it.

Bacon Explosion Weave

Bacon Explosion Weave

Bacon Explosion Assembly

Bacon Explosion Assembly

Set up the grill for indirect grilling and grill the bacon explosion until it reaches 165O F on an instant-read meat thermometer.  In the last 10 minutes of grilling time, add more sauce to the outside of the explosion.

Bacon Explosion on the Grill

Bacon Explosion on the Grill

Once it is done, let it sit for 10 minutes before slicing and serving it.

Book Recommendations

I learned everything I know about grilling by reading cookbooks by Jamie Purviance and Steven Raichlen.  Both authors each have published over a half dozen books about grilling that contain hundreds of ideas. More importantly, they teach you techniques to grill anything you can possibly imagine.  I learned indirect grilling from just the first five pages of one of Jamie Purviance’s books.  They both make recipes and techniques simple and easy for anyone to understand.

You can purchase any of their books and wouldn’t go wrong.  If you would like the essentials, start with these:

Best of luck with your grilling season, Karl, and thank you again for your submission.

If anybody else is looking for advice of any kind, please send me an e-mail at with your question and I’ll be sure to tell you what you need to hear.