Saturday, January 29, 2011

Breakfast at The Surfside Restaurant, Wildwood, NJ

We found it by accident, driving out of Wildwood after the 50's Doo-Wop Hot Rod & Antique Car Show weekend a lotta years ago. I was driving my '56 Buick Century Wagon, already 40 years old but runnin' strong and lookin' good under the neon lights Wildwood. All of a sudden we see this crazy place, all decked out with a very 60's-looking pointed roofline, sitting there among the mid-century mod hotels and souped-up rods. I swung the Buick around fast and roared into the parking lot.
The Surfside in the 1960s...more elegant than touristy back then.
"Get a load of this joint," I said to my then girlfriend, soon-to-be wife Colleen. I'd been going to Wildwood for years and had never seen it. Of course, that was pre-internet days when you had to rely on scant advertising or word-of-mouth to find places like this. (Or you could find them just driving around.)
We went inside and were hit by the yellowest yellow I'd ever seen. The place was bright and sunny, in fact it even had paintings of smiling suns as part of the decor, and still had that very 1960's look to it with the original booths and crazy Sputniks hanging from the ceiling. They were playing 50's music which added to the feel. It was, like many other experiences in WW, like going back in time.

This is how I remember it. A little cheesy, but lots of fun.
We ordered eggs and coffee. I remember they weren't exactly cheap, but then again not much in Wildwood ever was. I'm pretty sure we got served coffee in those 60's style plastic mugs with the throw-away plastic inserts, as if they never changed that style in 30+ years. The food was good, the place was packed, and we had a great time. 

We were lucky enough to get back a couple of times before they finally closed. I don't know the whole story on the closing, but I remember hearing a group of Wildwoodians were trying like hell to buy the building and keep it from getting wrecked.

A couple of years later I was doing online research for my book, Murder Behind The Closet Door which takes place primarily in the Wildwoods. I typed in Surfside Restaurant, expecting to see pictures of it being demolished...but instead I found the Wildwood Doo Wop Preservation League's site, and man was I glad I did. These coolest of cool kats and kittens actually did it...they saved the building, had it relocated and turned it into a museum showcasing some of the best of WW's past. What a fantastic thing they're doing, keeping the old memories alive even now as "progress" turns the island into rows of condos with no personality. 

To the heroes of the Doo Wop League goes a very special thank you for caring enough to keep the past alive, and to save that 1962 architectural masterpiece, the Surfside Restaurant. Bravo, kids.

-Christopher Pinto, author of Murder Behind the Closet Door, the Wildwood Paranormal Murder Mystery.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Waffles and Ice Cream at Pierre's on the Boardwalk

It's funny how some of the simplest memories can be the greatest. Sometime back in the mid '70s, my grandparents came down from Philly (we lived in Cardiff, near the Shore Mall) and we all went to the Wildwood Boardwalk. I couldn't have been more than seven or eight, but I remember that particular night pretty well. We had dinner at Niel's, went on the rides on Hunt's Pier as usual, and ended the night looking for ice cream. My grandmother was a big ice cream fanatic, and she insisted we get some before leaving. I don't know if there weren't many places serving real ice cream (soft serve wouldn't do) or if Pierre's was the first place we came across, but somehow we wound up inside the French-themed diner.

What a thrill it was to sit in such a fancy place on the boardwalk! Well, at least it was fancy to a seven year old. Blue and gold decor, a giant mural of what I can only imagine was Paris, and accordion music playing over the loud speakers. And lo and behold, this wonderful place didn't just have ice cream...they had waffles and ice cream, a huge family favorite for as long as I can remember.

We were expecting a slice of chocolate/vanilla/strawberry between two square waffles, the usual fare. Instead we got something splendid, something I'd never seen before: I giant round waffle on a plate with scoops of ice cream piled up high, topped off with whipped cream and a cherry. I was in my glory. I'd never had so much fun in one night in my life!

I've been to the boards dozens of times since that great night over 35 years ago, and have made it a point every time to hit Pierre's for waffles and ice cream. The last time I was there was 2005 with my wife Colleen. They still had the blue and gold decor, the mural, and of course the waffles! Sadly, that was the last time I'll ever be able to experience that great tradition. As far as I can tell, after 50 years of serving memories, Pierre's shut its doors for the last time. I should have taken pictures, but unfortunately I didn't. But at least we have the memories.

-Christopher Pinto, author of Murder Behind the Closet Door, the Wildwood Paranormal Murder Mystery.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Grandparent's Vacation Home, Wildwood

In the early to mid 1970s, my Grandparents (who lived in South Philly) rented a tiny bungalo near Hunt's Pier. By tiny I mean it was literally two rooms, a bath and a kitchenette. The whole thing couldn't have been more than a twenty-foot square.

I remember it sat far back off the street. It was painted brown with white trim, and looking back I'm pretty sure it was built on someone's side lot, as a guest house. It definitely had that 1920s look to it; it had shutters on the windows with little metal anchors attached to the middle of each, and flower boxes on each side of the door. Inside, the kitchenette had a small, 1950s style refrigerator, a sink, and a little propane stove. The furniture was very homey, and I remember it looked a lot like my Grandparents' furniture in the City.

They'd stay all summer long there. My Grandfather did a lot of fishing, went out almost every day. My Grandmother usually spent the days "watching her stories" on the little portable black and white TV, then went to work each evening on Hunt's Pier selling tickets at the front ticket booth. We'd visit them a couple of times each summer, and when times were good we'd go on the rides on the piers. But my Grandmother never...and I mean not once, even to my old man's protests...gave (stole) us free tickets for the rides!

-Christopher Pinto, author of Murder Behind the Closet Door, the Wildwood Paranormal Murder Mystery.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

In the mid-90s I had a 1956 Buick Century station wagon that I drove as my everyday car. I was lucky enough to get it down to Wildwood for the Boardwalk Classic Car Show & Cruise, driving the Dragon Wagon. We stayed at the Bel Air Motel (still in operation!) and ate at Neil's, hit the boards for the car show during the day and the rides at night. Castle Dracula was still alive, and we did both the boat ride and the walk-through. As always, we had waffles and ice cream at Pierre's and played Fascination at Olympic Casino.

My 1956 Buick Century Wagon. Original V8 Hotrod Engine.
What a great weekend that was. There were 30s, 40s and 50s cars everywhere, so many you didn't even notice the modern cars. All that chrome really shined under all that neon. I remember a bunch of guys in a 50s-style 1931 Model-A Ford hot rod burning rubber in front of The Satellite. Guys were dressed as greasers and chicks were wearing poodle skirts and old-style bikinis. Doo Wop music blasted everywhere. The next morning we had breakfast at the Surfside Diner. It was like going back in time.

I haven't been to the Cruise in years, but I'll bet even though a lot of the koolest motels are gone, it's still a hell of a weekend.

-Christopher Pinto, author of Murder Behind the Closet Door, the Wildwood Paranormal Murder Mystery.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Watch the Tram Car, Please

If you've ever been to the Wildwood, NJ Boardwalk, these five words are undoubtedly ingrained into your brain for the rest of your life. The famous Wildwood Tram Car, or "Sightseer" has been on the boards since the 1940s...and since sometime in the 70s, has had a recording blasting out "Watch the Tram Car Please" to keep unaware walkers from getting run over.

When I was a kid, I swear the driver had a mic & PA system, and would announce where the tram was stopping, along with WTTCP.

The tram used to be painted bright yellow with blue racing stripes down the side. Sometime, I think in the 70s, they started adding advertising signs on top of the engine car. I remember them mostly being for cigarettes. There were a lot of ads for cigarettes and booze on the Wildwood Boardwalk in the 70s. You don't see that so much anymore.

Last photo I saw of the Tram, it was "wrapped" in a red and white Coca-Cola advertisement. I'm sure Coke paid a pretty penny to ruin the tram's appearance. It's great that the company running the tram can make some extra advertising money during rough economic times, but at what expense? The original, 60+ year old style is gone. Along with it has gone some of the charm of old Wildwood. But the reality is,  fewer people like me, and you, who loved Wildwood in the old days spend money there, and more and more kids (who are spending dough) want more and more excitement, thrills, and modern diversions. Wildwood will have to adapt to the new generations, as it did to adapt to our generation with more rides and t-shirt shops. I just hope the people doing the adapting realize that they can adapt without destroying the past.

-Christopher Pinto, author of Murder Behind The Closet Door, the Wildwood Paranormal Murder Mystery