Recalling Precious Summers Past in Ortley Beach

Fond memories of the Jersey Shore, from warm evenings on the porch to all-night parties at the disco.

Photo by Colin Archer/Agency New Jersey

Like many New Jerseyans, the Shore has been a big part of my life for as long as I can remember. I grew up in Newark, but every summer, there was a brief escape at the Shore. My extended family rented a two-room bungalow in Ortley Beach for one week. We didn’t have air conditioning, but we did have a screened porch. Six kids—my sisters, our three cousins and I—would sleep out there on blow-up rafts.

The block we rented on in Ortley was not far from the local sewage-treatment facility. (We had a saltier name for it.) The odor was unbearable, but its presence made our summer indulgence somewhat affordable. Speaking of indulgences, on special occasions, my father would take us in the family station wagon for hot dogs at the legendary Max’s in Long Branch. 

Eventually, the family bought a small beach house on Lanyard Road, still in Ortley Beach. That was the best. My two sisters and I still had to share a bedroom, but at least we were off the porch. Still no air conditioning, but box fans kept us cool.

When we were teenagers, the family moved for the summer to West Point Island in Lavallette. Soon, I was frequenting all the best spots at the Shore. I will admit to being a regular at the Surf Club in Ortley. Yes, it was the disco era, and I am too embarrassed to show any pictures of myself from that period. We would hit what we called the “Sunday matinee”—a nonstop dance party that began at three in the afternoon and ran until nine or ten at night. Then, I’d head home for a quick shower, a change of clothes (clean T-shirt, different shorts, but the same sneakers) and return to the Surf Club for more dancing and partying.

But time down the Shore was also about family time. We loved Rossi’s Bikes on Bay Boulevard in Ortley. It’s been there forever. We’d rent a bike for four or more, with a front and back seat. It wasn’t easy to steer, but it was endless fun. Or we’d head to Barnacle Bill’s, an Ortley institution since 1964, with 18 holes of miniature golf, an arcade and an ice cream parlor. Bill’s is still a big part of my life; last summer, they provided our son Nick with his first paid job.

At night, we’d often wind up at the Seaside boardwalk. They frequently talked about making it more family friendly, but it always had a rough edge. I appreciated the boardwalk for its authenticity. As a kid, I loved the Bozo Drop, which was owned by family friends. As a teen, I graduated to the Himalaya and the Swiss Bob. Today, my family loves any game of chance, but especially the Sawmill, at the southern end of the boards.

A few years ago, my wife and I decided it was time to build our own home in Lavallette. It was the best move we ever made. The Lavallette boardwalk is where our daughter Olivia, now 8, learned how to ride her bike, and where my wife jogs every summer morning. There’s no better way to absorb the beauty of the Atlantic Ocean. 

For breakfast, we love Meg’s Grill; for cappuccino and espresso, we head to Lava Java House. And, of course, everyone in the area knows the Crab’s Claw Inn. The food is great, and the crowd is the best. Earlier this year, we were lucky enough to be there on the last day that 89-year-old Frank “Frankie Fingers” Staknys, a Toms River resident and Korean War veteran, performed on the piano. He’s been a mainstay at the Crab’s Claw for decades, creating the best party atmosphere I have ever experienced—outside of the Surf Club back in the day.

My Shore memories are endless. We’d like to hear about yours. Share them with me at [email protected]. 

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