Sunday, February 17, 2008

Christmas Eve at the Old Anch

Christmas Eve at the Old Anchorage

I drove in from Browns Mills, in the dead of night through the Pines and down the Parkway to Somers Point, and instead of going home to an empty house in Ocean City, I stopped in Somers Point, heading towards Gregory's but pulling up instead to the old Anchorage. It was dark, but early, probably around eight pm, and there weren't many people around.

This is long before Donny Mahoney came along, and a few years before it was remodeled in to the fine restaurant it is today.

The front steps and porch were creakey, the big, round, porthole windows were still there to the left of the front door, and surprisingly, Andrew was behind the bar.

I don't remember exactly what year it was, sometime after the death of my father and before we left Ocean City, say circa 1990. Things were winding down at the old Anchorage, fighting off progress, clinging to the last throws of the old world. But Andrew, the owner, was never behind the bar, explaining that Sue wanted to be with her family.

Andrew, set me up with a long neck bottle of Bud while I asked him to let me help him ou. I'll bartend, I said, you just sit there. I didn't expect it to be that crowded, after all it was Christmas Eve.

It was just me and Andrew, and maybe a few other guys in the back shooting pool. We were there just shooting the breeze for a little while when another guy in Andrew's crew comes in, and then another one. After awhile there was a half-dozen guys, mainly escaping the after affects of a family dinner, when in comes in a van with a half-dozen handicaped vets from a vets home.

Now looking back on it, it was probably Tommy Major who brought them out for the night, but I don't remember him specifically. I do remember a guy with on leg, a Vietnam vet who looked exactly like Santa Clause - big white beard, belly and big smile. He was happy to be alive.

I don't know if you remember the Old Anchorage from that era, but it was exactly like it is today, except the bar wrapped around the back room, the roof leaked, there were holes in the floor, it was a little musty, and had a peculiar smell about it.

There was a pair of swinging doors between the bar and the dining room and between the bar and the kitchen, what is now the hall going to the back parking lot. The Men's Room was next to the front door, where the back bar is today, and the old oak wood box pay phone was next to the front door. And if you give me a minute, I'll remember the number.

On the other side of the front door were the big, oval, nautical windows that overlooked Great Egg Bay and Ocean City on the horizon.

That Christmas Eve was the first time I served drinks, but after talking with Andrew, and passing my first test working that night, I earned my stripes and got the first open shifts for the summer, the 6 am - 12 noon, Wednesday and Thursdays, the two wortst shifts of the week. Mornings Eddie Margum didn't even want, though he fit in every other morning.

Eddie was a real piece of work. He drove a pick up truck, and worked the morning bar tender shift at a number of places - Gregory's and Charlies to name two, but where ever he worked he got his staple of regular customers, retired vets, serious fishermen, casino workers on the graveyard shift and other assorted derlects.

Taking his other two days, I got the same crowd, which fit in well with my main task that summer - writing the official history of Somers Point.

The official history, proud of it as I am, doesn't reflect some of the nitty gritty, the off color, and the radical scandles brought on by the murders of Judge Helfant, Harry Anglemeyer and the Parkway girls, as well as the federal conviction of formor Somers Point mayor John McCann, none of which made the final cut. The Secret History of Somers Point is yet to be written.

Suffice to say the official version came together in the early morning hours at the Historic Anchorage Tavern as I set the place up for the business of the day.

Eddie was an Ed Wynn type of guy - the old man in the Disiney movies, but he was shrude.

Ask Andrew for an Ed Margrum story as I knwo he has a few.

I think I even have a photo of the old Anchorge with Eddie's pick up truck parked out front.

The six AM to noon shift starts slow but goes quick at the end as more customers come in towards lunch hour. Charlie Carney took over at noon - and worked till seven. Charlie was the total professional, thank you, and made over a hundred dollars a shift, as did the night bartenders who worked from 7 PM til 2 or sometimes 3 AM. The morning guy, as I learned, got $40 to $60, but for me, hey, it was beer money.

And gave me a lot of color for sprucing up the Point book. Like the time the old man, I mean really old man came hobbling in on a cane, walked passed the phoen booth and tried to open the swing door to the dinning room, which was closed and boarded up, just used as storage.

Sitting down at the bar he ordered a bottle of beer but insisted on getting a chance of at least looking back there, into the old dining room, now piled high with junk.

It was there he said, in the old Anchorage dining room, where he went to his first mass as a six year old. They put a table cloth over the bar to use as an alter, and wine from the bar to go with communion. The priest came over on the ferry from Ocean City, putting into Bay Shores and walking down Bay Avenue to the Anchorage. Before that, mass was said at a neighbor's house, until it got too crowded, when they started to use the Anchorage dining room.

Then he started talking about the old, one room school house, which was where City Hall is today, and how it was heated by a pot bellied stove, and how the teacher was really good looking.....

And could he please look back there?

It's not the way you remember it I tried to assure him when his eyes lit up and he exclaimed, "Icecream!"

He was on his way home from the grocery store, he hurriedly explained, when he decided to stop, and the ice cream was melting in the car, as was his wife, who he also forgot about, saying goodbye as he left.

Ah, the old Anchorage isn't the way we remember it, it's better, and miraculously still there (See: Anchorge Fire).

Working that Christmas Eve and those early morning shifts at the old Anch, and looking at the world through those portholes, gave me an interesting insight that still reflects today.

More Anchorage Flashbacks available on request.


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