Kent Island’s Dirty Dave’s is the perfect place to unplug for a few hours.
When the weather outside gets good, our thoughts here at Getaway Bunny Worldwide turn to the same thing every year: outdoor drinking. (Shameful, I know).
Here on Maryland’s Mid-Shore, we’ve got a number of options if we wanna be waterfront when we sit and sip. And I ain’t gonna lie to ya; we’ve tried them all. I mean, how else can we give you our professional opinions?
What we look for in a beach/dock/tiki bar is pretty simple:
- A sweet, waterfront location/exceptional view
- A chillaxed, drama-free vibe(aka: low meathead quotient)
- An easygoing staff that’s almost as happy to be there as you are (uptight bartenders and roid- raging bouncers like some of those places downy ocean need not apply)
- Prices that don’t make you jump off the nearest pier when they bring you the check
NOTE: (we’ll rate each venue on these criteria, 1-5 golden carrots, based on our experiences.)
Personally, I think the gold standard of beach bars is found throughout Florida and the Caribbean (more on that in future posts). A truly proper beach bar happens for all the right reasons; and almost by accident. Try too hard to replicate the island way, and you end up with a tacky Holiday Inn lounge that’s sporting a bad mural painting of a palm tree sunset, and some cheesy guy in a Hawaiian shirt warbling Margaritaville off-key in the corner. No thanks.
So, here are our Mid-Shore favorites, our “it’ll do’s”, and the ones that we go out of our way to avoid like a Richard Simmons infomercial.
A. GB TOP PICKS
Dirty Dave’s Tiki Bar
Kentmorr Marina, Stevensville www.Kentmorr.com
Dirty Dave’s is a true hidden gem; a thatched shack that’s half-buried in the sand, smack dab on the Chesapeake Bay’s front row. You can get to DD’s by land, sea, and even by air, thanks to the landing strip that’s right there in the neighborhood (please don’t drink and fly; that’s just plain scary).
This place is a destination all its own. Show up there on a Summer Saturday and it’s almost sensory overload. Walk up from the parking lot and you’re met with mountains of steamed crabs on diners’ tables, a long line of bikini-laden boat parties along the south bulkhead, live music grooving on the massive deck, people coming and going from all directions, and the thatch-top tiki bar itself, surrounded by good-timers, with the blue-green bay waters of the bay providing the perfect backdrop.
Dirty Dave’s cocktails are pristine, the seafood at Kentmorr Restaurant (same property) is mostly local, and the sunsets are among the best you’ll find this side of Mallory Square. Like my friend Christine says, “this place feels like a vacation!” Nuff said.
OUR CHOICE FOR: Best place to insert toes in sand while cocktailing.
LIVE MUSIC? Regularly
KID FRIENDLY? Sure
Rolph’s Wharf Marina, Chestertown www.RolphsWharf.com
The GB team and friends, beachfront at the Sandbar last Friday.
The Sandbar is exactly that—a covered bar fashioned out of an old fishing boat, sitting in the sand on a secluded bank of the historic Chester River. It’s a lot like one of those unique little hole-in-the-wall joints in Key West or lower Outer Banks that’s loaded with colorful local characters and ageless sea salt atmosphere.
Bartenders at the Sandbar are supremely talented, pouring drinks that pack the same punch as a Ray Lewis 3rd down stop. It’s beautiful to witness, and can make the most amazing things happen. Last time there, I ended up doing shots of Patron with a jazz singer from New Jersey and a DC lobbyist whose boat was bigger than our house. We also met a guy who may be the world’s foremost expert on unfastening bras without the bra-wearer knowing. True story.
Beyond that, there’s plenty of beach seating, and a river to wade into (complete with snakes), and some decent bar-food options including hot wings that are actually HOT.
Sandbar ain’t fancy, and definitely not high-fallutin, but it’s pretty close to perfect.
OUR CHOICE FOR: Best place to hide from the rest of Planet Earth.
LIVE MUSIC? Sometimes
KID FRIENDLY? Kinda/sorta
B. DEEZE ONES ARE OK, TOO
Rock Hall www.HarborShack.net
Harbor Shack, during Rock Hall’s “Pirates & Wenches” Weekend. Pretty wild.
The Shack has been a solid go-to for several years now; an open air bar/restaurant that always feels like THE place to be in Kent County. There’s a good-sized deck that overlooks Rock Hall Harbor, and a really cool indoor/outdoor bar that gets a steady offshore breeze.
It’s an unassuming place where it doesn’t matter what you drive, or how fat your wallet is. People are constantly buying drinks for other people at the bar, whether they know each other or not. And once the band gets going, you just might get to hear Sharon the singing bartender grab a microphone and belt out a little Janis Joplin.
The food is ok, but they could probably benefit with having less options on the menu. But for a great spot to sit under the stars, have a few drinks, and enjoy local music, Harbor Shack is perfect.
OUR CHOICE FOR: Cold beers, live music, and singing bartenders.
LIVE MUSIC? Regularly
KID FRIENDLY? Sure, but don’t stay late
Bay Bridge Marina Stevensville www.HemingwaysBayBridge.com
The new, fancy-schmancy Hemingway’s still has that monster location.
Hemingway’s has been a Kent Island institution since the Kennedy Administration, featuring fresh seafood and an amazing view from the eastern foot of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. But a few years ago, the longtime owners stepped away, and Corporate America swept in and flattened the tired old building, replacing the rustic charm with a cleaner, slicker layout and chain resort feel. Yes, it’s still cool, but we all agree that we liked the old decrepit one better.
Food is meh, and drinks can get expensive; about what you’d expect from a venue with an A-list location like this. But one thing’s for sure: the place still delivers.
OUR CHOICE FOR: Impressing clients, first dates, and out of town guests.
LIVE MUSIC? Sometimes
KID FRIENDLY? Sure
Kent Narrows, Grasonville www.BridgesRestaurant.com
PROS: Excellent waterside view of the Kent Narrows & Eastern Bay, and top notch signature cocktails.
CONS: On the short list of the worst service I’ve ever encountered (waited 20 minutes in a half empty lounge for someone to even acknowledge me), prices more expensive than a date with Lindsay Lohan.
GB SAYS: Sit at the indoor/outdoor bar, and tip the bartender as you go. Mojitos are good, but at $9 a pop, YOU’LL have to decide just HOW good.
Kent Narrows, Grasonville www.JettyDockBar.com
PROS: This oversized hut on a pier is a fine place to kick it with friends during the day, although they can get really crowded on warm weekend afternoons.
CONS: When the sun goes down, the drama goes up, complete with fights, bouncer rage, server apathy, and other nonsense. And the more crowded it is, the bigger your breasts need to be in order to get a drink at the bar.
GB SAYS: If you can find parking (big if), go on in and enjoy yourself. But if you’re not out by 10pm, you could be eaten by vampires. Just sayin.
C. WE’D RATHER STAY SOBER THAN RETURN
Waterman’s Crab House
Tourists have been mobbing Waterman’s for years now, eager to gobble down soggy, lukewarm crabs and fried shrimp. But the locals I know steer clear like it’s a Red Lobster with Bubonic Plague.
Maybe it’s just me, but Waterman’s has been about as exciting as a podiatry seminar when we’ve been there. Sure, it LOOKS right. There’s an outdoor bar there on the water, etc. But no enthusiasm. No fun. No laughter in the air. No electricity, even while the band was playing. (and a lotta bands we know refuse to play there for that reason). The most memorable part of being there last time was when their stumblin-drunk entertainment manager insisted (loudly) that he get up onstage to sing with the band, only to lay waste to Van Morrison’s “Brown Eyed Girl” utterly and completely. Now, THAT was funny.
And again, maybe it’s me, but the bartenders approached their jobs with a mix of apathy and rudeness. The two girls working that night weren’t friendly, and acted like we were bothering them every time we asked for another beer–even though we tipped with each new order.
I can tell you that I’ve never gone to Waterman’s and NOT ended up at nearby Harbor Shack before the end of the night. Which is precisely where we’ll start out next time.
OUR CHOICE FOR: Pennsylvania tourists who don’t know any better.
FOOD ? Technically
LIVE MUSIC? Yes
KID FRIENDLY? Yes
Big Owl Tiki Bar
This place makes me sad. See, the Owl used to be the site of one of our beloved Tiki Bar legends, The Shanty. The Shanty had the perfect Island Time vibe, and we mourn its loss to the extent that we still hold an annual party in its honor, every Friday of Memorial Day weekend. This year’s was at The Sandbar.
This place a pompous mess. New owner Al is a wedding DJ, and the venue FEELS like it’s owned by a wedding DJ, with a desperate “hey gang! Look how Jimmy Buffett we are!” poseur approach. Last time I was there, we had a crowd of about 25 with us, and in the midst of a warm, idyllic afternoon of cold beer and perfectly acceptable acoustic music on satellite radio, the owner hastily broke out his DJ gear and bombarded us with the likes of Madonna and Michael Jackson at ear-twisting volumes (surprised he didn’t play the Chicken Dance too). Adios conversation and relaxation.
We also hear that they’ve now cancelled Happy Hour on Fridays, charging full price instead. Beyond that, the service is slower than my kids taking out the trash. No mas. Never again.
OUR CHOICE FOR: People whose entire Buffett album collection consists of “Songs You Know By Heart” and still have the audacity to call themselves a Parrothead.
FOOD ? Be patient
LIVE MUSIC? Yes
KID FRIENDLY? Technically, but why bother?
That oughta keep you busy for awhile. Of course, your results may vary. As always, these are merely our opinions; nothing more, nothing less. One of our favorite things on the planet are tiki bars, and we know what we like, and what sucks.
Got a favorite waterfront watering hole that didn’t make our list? Let’s hear about it!