Northbeach isn’t anyone’s favorite bar – which is odd. The bayside location is unbeatable. The generous amount of outdoor seating cools down the vibe and reminds one of a beer garden. But the stony staff and the occasional metal-detector wand create an undercurrent of hostility; the secluded and unlit parking lot never feels safe; the drinks are awful.
But on Tuesday nights, Dewey goes to Northbeach. They put up their arms for the wand-down like a scarecrow in a strapless and ready their loose change. Tuesday night is dollar night.
Like McDonalds, Northbeach’s dollar menu is limited and inferior to the full roster. A dollar bill will buy a 12 ounce Bud Light, an Admiral Nelson-and-Coke, or a Dewey Devil. A Bud Light is never good no matter who uncaps it, and its value changes with neither venue nor price, so a dollar is actually a sweet bargain. Admiral Nelson is head-splittingly bad rum; thank god the Northbeach version is half melted ice.
The Dewey Devil is peculiar to North Beach, for reasons that become obvious after the first sip. Unmeasured pours of fruit juice, daiquiri mix and rum get dumped in a blender, hellishly ground for ten seconds and slopped into a white plastic cup, the result an unsettling mauve. It tastes fruity, for sure – but long-expired fruit with a weird, chalky aftertaste. In the name of science, I gulp one down as fast as I can. If there’s booze in the cup, I neither taste nor feel it. I’m brainfrozen and one dollar poorer.
But there are many who don’t mind cheap beer, and the crowd flows in at a steady pace. Barbacks scuttle between bars with clattering cases of BL Longnecks, restocking coolers which get emptied five minutes later by guys in polo shirts. No kidding – every sherberty shade of polo is out tonight, from I-Play-Lacrosse key lime to May-I-Buy-You-A-Drink coral pink. The smokers avail themselves of the outdoor seating, flicking their butts into the bay.
The bay. It really is nice, I tell my friend Shawn – the sky is a soft bruise over the opposite shoreline, where pines bigger than god tower over marshy guts and ankle-deep inlets, seething with fiddler crabs. The breeze is soothing, clearing away the tension and rage that builds up in sweat-clogged venues like the Rusty Rudder. For more than a few seconds, Northbeach is a lovely bar, serene, detached and resort-like.
Then the cover band fires up Journey’s “Any Way You Want It.” Two stunted guys and one Amazonian lady whose too-short tee rides up her back, exposing a confusing tramp stamp and a full two inches of asscrack. The strummy acoustic cover is earnest enough but wouldn’t make the cut for a backyard bonfire; neither would the ensuing covers of “Take Me Home Tonight,” “Don’t Stop Believing” or, bewilderingly, Metro Station’s “Shake It.” After a handful of songs they call it quits. Some DJ fires up the Top 40. The dancing starts.
I spot a sedate-looking trio propped up against the railing on the far side of the beer garden – Brian, in a black polo; Tim, yellow polo; Melissa, white sun dress. They’re rising University of Delaware seniors, and thus veterans of this kind of scene.
“It’s almost like two different bars,” says Tim. “You have that” – he points to the dance floor, where revelers are unhinging to the pulse of Lady GaGa’s “Poker Face” – “and then you have this. This is chill. You got the beach.” He kicks at the sand beneath his flip-flops.
Melissa is a New Jersey native, someone accustomed to paying for beach access. Dewey, free to the public, is pretty sweet, she said; jaded partygoers need to look on the brighter side.
“It’s nice, you know,” she says sensing my weariness. “I mean, it’s Tuesday, and there’s a nightlife.”
Away from the maddening crowd, I’m more inclined to agree than not. After all, Bud Light can only be so bad.