Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Last Summer at the Old Anch

Through the Old Anchorage Porthole


Part 1 – Spring 1993

The last summer at the old Anchorage Tavern in Somers Point began like many others when the morning shift bartender, 83 year-old Ed Margerum parked his grey pickup truck on Bay Avenue by the corner and walked up the steps to the porch to unlock the front door.

As he opened it a rush of stale air, a mixture of cigarette smoke, liquor fumes and a unique musky aroma, rushed out past him into the fresh salt air.

It’s 6:30 in the morning and the sun is rising over the bay. Through the large porthole window Ed sees the bright orange sun reflecting off the calm bay waters at low tide. Just across the street a lone, large blue heron stands out stalking his prey in the tidal pool among a flock of curious seagulls, a dozen lazy duck and some pigeons that roost on the sunny side of a nearby roof, taking it all in.

Built circa 1888, the Anchorage Hotel has stood strong through over a hundred seasons that have come and gone. It was originally built to house visiting fishermen and gunners, bird hunters who came to the Jersey Shore to catch fish and shoot ducks for Philadelphia restaurants and other shorebirds, whose feathers were sold to haberdashers for women’s hats.

The bay, Great Egg Harbor bay, was discovered in 1614 by Dutch sea Captain Cornelius May, whose explorers discovered the banks of the bay lined with bird’s eggs and named it Eryen Haven – Egg Harbor.

When the hunters and fishermen lived there, they slept in bunk beds and were warmed by a pot belly stove.

After being renovated as a first class establishment by Judge Larry Brannigan, the Anchorage Hotel added a ballroom and catered to the society types who came to the Shore in the summer from Philadelphia and New York.

Then, owned by Mr. Charles Collins, it became a summer tourist hotel for those who enjoyed boating, fishing and swimming in the bay waters. Of course, during prohibition, it was frequented by rum rummers, and one old patron recalled a raid when slot machines were thrown into the bay.

In 1938 the Anchorage was purchased by Lucille Cornaglia Thompson, who operated it with her husband until 1945, when she sold it to her brother Andrew "Henry" Cornaglia, from South Philadelphia.

When the Cornaglia family bought it from Lucille, they either kept up or introduced fine Italian food and the place was popular for its good and inexpensive pastas and family atmosphere. Entertainment was not the main attraction, though people still remember a black trio - the Three Keys, which included a piano player who strongly resembled Nat King Cole, and their little piano was kept in the back room for decades after they'd gone.

Henry's favorite songs on the juke box were "On the Way to Cape May," and Dick Todd's "Bummin' Around."

During the rock & roll era, the rooms upstairs were primarily leased for the summer by bartenders and musicians who worked at Bay Shores, Tony Marts, Steels and the other nightclubs down the street. The bar itself however, was primarily popular with locals and seasonal guests until the death of Mr. Cornaglia in the spring of 1965 when his son Andrew took over.

Although he wasn’t yet 21 and old enough to drink, he managed the place. "I didn't know vodka from gin," he later said, "and if it wasn't for my mother I never would have been able to sustain the first couple of years."

Things began to look bleak when his father's friends and the older folks stopped coming in. Then, Andrew recalled, "I was mopping up on a Good Friday when we were supposed to be closed, but I had forgot to lock the front door. These three guys walked in, all bartenders in the area, and they like the place. They just sent me people after that, and it just took off when the young people started to drift in. All of the key things in my life happened by accident. When it's your turn, it's your turn, that's what the Fates are doing. You can make all the wrong moves and they turn out right."

He hired some new bartenders who drew a new, younger crowd that made the Anchorage THE Place to meet before hitting the nightclubs that featured live bands.

By the early 1990s, Bay Shores and Tony Marts were history, and in their place was a restaurant and disco, neither of which attracted the same crowd who enjoyed the Anchorage, which still catered to the young crowds at night, at least during the summer months.

During the day the clientele were mainly locals, while the morning crowd consisted of older, retired men, veterans on disability and casino workers getting off the graveyard shift, still in their white shirts and black vests. That’s the crowd that Eddie the Old Man catered to.

They called Eddie “the Old Man,” and he's one of the few of the old time bartenders at the point who had been through a few of the previous eras. For the most part however, he worked up the street on the morning shifts at Gregory’s and Charlie’s, both a block away on Shore Road. He lasted a couple years at each place and then was fired for being too slow or some reason or another, and drifted down the street to the Anchorage, where nobody else wanted to work the early morning shift anyway.

When Charles Carney heard that Eddie was fired from Gregorys, he convinced Andrew to let Eddie take the morning shift at the Anchorage.

Eddie begins the early morning chores, sweeping and then mopping up the bathroom floors, wiping down the bar, filling up the sinks with bubbly soap and cleaning glasses until his first customer comes in. Usually it’s a regular, a old retired gentleman or casino worker with a pocket full of tips that’s counted on the bar.

Then Bob, the liquor salesman puts his head in the door and asks Eddie if he wants a cup of coffee. Eddie says yes, he always says yes, but Bob still asks him anyway. Then he goes across the street to the breakfast grill Bayshores II and brings back two white styrofoam cups of steaming coffee.

Bob sits at the bar and drinks his coffee, smokes a cigarette and watches the sun rise through the big porthole window as Eddie comes out of the kitchen with a cigar box, the money till that was stashed somewhere in the back room. He counts out $150 from a bag marked "Front," counts the change and gets the cash registers going.

These are mirror sharp metal mechanical NCR registers that recorded everything on thin, white paper rolls, the same ones that Gregorys used.

Jimmy "Ironworker" comes in through the back door, back by the juke box and pool table. He's carrying a newspaper and a hot cup of coffee that he sets on the bar and reads quietly for awhile before ordering a cold Bud.

Bob the liquor salesman leaves to make his rounds when Brian, a casino worker comes in, off from the graveyard shift.

Then in comes Gordon, who puts his cell phone on the bar - he's one of the few who have a cell phone in this time and place - and drinks his beer in a glass with ice.

Kevin the clammer comes in, and has some clams to sell or trade and has a beer.

If it's a rainy day, the work crew will take off early and come in, Jimmy the carpenter, the best of the carpenters, tries to get the other guys as much work as possible, but if its raining, that's a good reason to go to the Anch for the rest of the day.

If somebody asks for a glass of water or soda without liquor, Eddie would say, "This ain't no drugstore."

This day isn’t so unusual except it’s the Old Man’s birthday, and so a few friends who usually don’t come in every day stop by.

A few hours into his shift a small party of old friends come in and after a few drinks everyone is telling jokes and laughing. Ed is all smiles, and someone inevitably asks him to tell the horse story again.

The one where he tells about hitting a horse while driving down the Black Hosre Pike in his pickup truck. He then walks into the bar and says, “I just hit a horse,” to which somebody replies, “That’s great, for how much?”

Then everybody laughs even though they heard it a dozen times, and it is funny in a way since its true.

Then the girl shows up, the dancer they chipped in and hired to do a strip and lap dance for the Old Man on his birthday.

Eventually, as it gets closer to noon, Charles Carney walks in the front door wearing a St. Michael's Marland t-shirt. He's a bit surprised at all the people, all twelve of them, and the party that’s going on. Charles has a newspaper under his arm and comes behind the bar for a changing of the guard, handing the Old Man his top jar and politely refusing to get in a photo of Eddie with the stripper.

While Charles, not as old as the Old Man, is a little haggered and doesn’t really need or want all these customers, but he reluctantly puts up with it.

Then, when one of the casino workers asks Charles if he’s heard the rumors that the Anchorage has been sold, Carney shrugs and says, “Yea, I heard that rumor years ago. I won’t believe it until it happens.”

As if on cue, Andrew the owner walks in the front door, looks around at all the riger moral, laughs and shakes his head. Placing his keys on the bar, he sits down along the side by the kitchen door as Charles sets him up with a drink and says, “If anyone calls, I’m not here.”

Then when its his turn to tell an Ed Margerum story Andrew recounts the time when he told Ed that if any strangers come in asking for him to tell them he's not here, and then he picked up his drink and ashtray and went over to the other side of the room and sat at the bar in the dark by the jukebox. Sure enough two suits walk in and ask Eddie for the owner and Eddie looks over to Andrew and pointed and said, "He's over there." Eddie gave him up without batting an eye.

It doesn’t take long for the phone to ring. The pay phone in the old wooden phone booth in the corner by the door has those swing glass doors, and is answered by a regular customer who, after a moment’s hesitation, says, “No lady, there’s no rooms here anymore, this is no longer a hotel,” and hangs up.

Well into the casino era the Anchorage Hotel was still listed first, alphabetically in the Atlantic County phone book under hotels, so people from out of town often call the number expecting to reserve a room.

The rooms up stairs hadn’t been used in over a decade, maybe longer, and nobody’s even been up there in years. Nor is the kitchen used anymore, and is now used for storage, as is the once elegant ballroom off to the side.

After the Old Man leaves and the party dies down, Charles Carney comes around the side of the bar and sits next to Andrew and opens the newspaper. Charles plays the horses and the stock market on occasion, and is a well read gentleman and professional bartender.

He’s been a bartender in Somers Point since he was young and a ladies’ man, and has a few wives, ex-wives and a number of kids who sometimes check in with him. Although he has a small apartment behind a house a few blocks away, he lives with Carol, his girlfriend, who tries to take care of him.

Carney has worked at practically every bar and nightclub in town, some more than once, and was either fired for insubordination or he quit, and has been known to just walk out on a job if he felt like it.

The afternoon shift at the Anch, from noon to seven, is perfect for Charles, as it is better than the morning shift, tip wise, and not as hectic as the night shift, when all the young people come in and raise hell. It’s also a good shift for his friends who do work at night to come in and visit him, like Vince Rennich and George McGonigle, two other legendary Somers Point bartenders. Legendary is a heavy word to use but it certainly applies to Vince and George.

Although Ed the Old Man is an old timer, Vince, George and Charlie were three Aces on the one hand and the last of the old school bartenders who were young themselves when they first started working the Point bars and clubs in the heyday of the '50s and '60s.

Vince had started off as a barback at Bay Shores when he got out of the Army, a Korean vet, and was hired by John McCann, the beer baron who owned Bay Shores with Dick McLain.

Vince’s mom introduced him to McCann at a Philadelphia dinner party and told him to go down the Shore to Bay Shores and help open the joint for the summer. Living in a room upstairs, Rennich eventually became a bartender and after spending a few winters working in Flordia and summers at Bay Shores, after his wife got pregnant he got a steady, year ‘round job at Gregory’s.

When one of the other bartenders left, Vince called his friend George McGonigle in Atlantic City and got him the job at Gregs. Twenty some years later George and Vince were still a team, each working an end of Gregory’s long mahogany bar.

And sometimes, before going on their regular shift at Gregs, they’d stop by and visit their old friend Charlie Carney and share a few laughs.


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