We have owned our house in Ocean City for 14 plus years (it will be 15 on January 28, 2020), and for about 13 of those years, Charlie’s has been a go to place for us! Located just across the bridge in Somers Point, Charlies is one of those local bars that are indeed the real life incarnation of the bar in the TV Show Cheers, “where everybody knows your name”!
In 1944, Helen and Charlie Thomas opened a classic “corner bar” in Somers Point, and Charlies has been an important part of the community ever since. The original bar was located across New Jersey Avenue from its current location, and moved to its current building in 1953. The building, and indeed the business, have undergone many changes during the 75 years that Charlie’s has been around, but the one constant in its history, is that four generations of the Thomas Family have run the place. Today, fourth generation brothers Jim and Jeff Thomas are the link back to their Great Grandmother and Great Grandfather, the founders!
Today, Charlie’s is still that corner bar (located on the corner of New Jersey Ave. and Shore Road) where everybody (well, maybe not everybody, but a lot of folks) indeed knows your name! The first time we went to Charlies, it was when our Mineola friends Pat and Steve Grosskopf were visiting with us, early in that first year of ownership. We went in for dinner one night, and got a table in the front bar room. We had a waitress who was a real pro, but at the same time a real smart ass. She was wearing a button that said, “I’d Card my Mother”, but she knew the answer to every question we had about menu items or beers that were offered. She joked with us, she kidded other customers, she called them by name, and she was the perfect professional waitress! Little did we know, she was also destined to be our very good friend, but that part comes later!
Until we retired and stopped renting our the house during the peak summer months, our MO was to travel down to Ocean City at the very least a couple of weekends a month, and for the better part of 10 or 11 years, Charlie’s was our Friday night stop. In the beginning, I’d take the Long Island Rail Road train into Queens, meet up with Susie, and off we’d go to the shore. As time went on, Susie got braver, and would drive to pick me up in the city. Some days we made it down early, some days, later, but we always had our Friday night at Charlie’s! Creatures of habit that we are, if it was Friday and we were down at the Shore, we were at Charlies!
Within a short amount of time, we were Charlie’s Friday Night regulars. We’d check in at the hostess desk with Carol or Colleen, and always request a table in the bar area. While we waited for our table, we’d enjoy the bar and a couple of pint sized Screwdrivers (with fresh squeezed OJ) or two from Wes or Kelly, and enjoy checking out and interacting with the many other Friday night regulars. Of course, in the summer months, the crowds were much bigger on a Friday night, but Fridays just equaled Charlies for us!
Once our table was ready, Carol or Colleen would show us the way, and hand us menus, and within moments “our waitress” would say hello. Unless she wasn’t there on a particular night, we sat exclusively with Sue, the lady I referred to on our first visit. Sue always knew we were probably going to have another Screwdriver, and most nights saw an order of Charlies’ Wings in our future. Now, let’s talk about those wings.
While Charlies has a full menu of dinner items, I always think that the best things on Charlies’ menu are what I call “bar food”, and right at the top of that list are their wings and what they call BBTs (boneless breast tenders). A single order of wings contain 13 pieces, usually pretty evenly split between drumettes and wingettes, while a single order of BBTs, contain 5 pieces. The chicken is fried perfectly and sized just right. In fact, some days, as soon as you drive over the 9th Street Bridge, you start to smell Charlie’s fried chicken! Then there are the sauces! Here’s what the menu says about them: “Tail Gun (mild), Top Gun (Hell Fire! No Kidding!) Southwest (our secret BBQ sauce), and their newest, Stinger Sauce (Tangy Honey Garlic).” They are all good, but our favorite, and I’d have to guess most sold, is Tail Gun sauce. Now, you can get your wings and BBTs dry, with sauce on the side, but that’s not our way. Grab lots of napkins and homemade blue cheese dressing! Get your wings sauced and hot! Make a mess of your face and your hands, and enjoy!! It’s the only way to roll!!
In addition to the great wings (which Susie swears are the BEST she has ever had), other great items on the menu include their soups, sandwiches, salads, burgers, cheesesteaks, and specialty sandwiches. Then there is their huge beer selection, appetizers, chili, wraps, and fries, but that’s only some of my “bar food” favorites! They’ve got pastas, and dinner selections from the Land and from the Sea (as their menu denotes). Whatever you are in the mood for, they have it! Take a look for yourself at their extensive menu and make yourself a little hungry! http://charliesbar.com/menu.pdf
Although the food is certainly great, in my opinion, like at any establishment, it’s the people that keep you coming back Over the years, we’ve met some great folks there. Like Carol and Colleen working the hostess desk most Fridays, and Kelly, and the late Wes, at the bar, waitresses Natalie, Jess, Sarah, and of course the lady I spoke of earlier, our good friend, Susan Earsom Waniak! We also got to know Sue’s son Chris and her daughter Carlye, who also are part of the Charlie’s Family!
Sue is a professional waitress, not something that is that common anymore. She grew up working at her Aunt’s Jersey Shore business, and she knows her job inside and out. She knows how to take care of her customers, and she knows how to deal with those, shall we say, high maintenance customers too! After years of having her wait on us every Friday and occasional Sunday breakfasts (Charlie’s is open 7AM to 3 AM Monday through Saturday, but opens at 9AM on Sunday for breakfast), I guess we officially got the Sue Seal of Approval, and we morphed from just customers and server, to friends. That’s something Susie and I are very proud of!
As often happens, life moves on. Eventually Sue stopped waitressing on Friday night, and we were transferred over to Natalie by Sue. Then I retired, so Susie and I no longer drove down to Ocean City on a Friday, and no longer had to fight the Friday night crowds on the Garden State Parkway or at Charlies. The result was that eventually, Friday night no longer was our go-to night at Charlies,. But don’t despair, for all is not lost!
You see, on Tuesday night, Sue holds court at the Back Bar (Captain Jacks Bar – Named for the late Jack Thomas..Jimmy and Jeff’s Dad) at Charlies! It’s a night populated by her regulars. First, some of her older customers, the “Dessert Club” comes at about 5 PM, then at about 6:45, Susie and I show up, along with some of the other second string regulars like Liz and Mike. Then after we’re done, she has others that show up depending on if volley ball is in session or not. The only thing we have to decide on is what we are going to eat that night. As soon as she sees us walk in the door, Sue already has our drinks in progress. Since we’ve been low carbing, and staying away from OJ, our Screwdrivers have morphed into Grey Goose Martinis, and we are hardly settled on our barstools, before the chilled glasses of goodness are in front of us! Now, if it is Tuesday night, and we are in town, we are at Charlies! We are indeed creatures of habit!
Sue knows the name and drink preference of virtually everybody who sits down at the back bar on a Tuesday night! (10 months out of the year that’s true…for July and August, all bets are off and the area’s population, and Charlie’s customer base swells for the summer) It’s just a continuation of that “Corner Bar” atmosphere that the Thomas Family has been known for over the last 75 years! Jeff is usually the brother on the premises on Tuesday night, and he always has a hello for most of the customers at the back bar, (Hell, he grew up with a lot of them) in addition to helping Sue out with ice, more bottles of booze, or even delivering an order. It’s just that kind of place, and Jeff is just that kind of person!
Like many of the other restaurants that we love, Charlies is a Family! It’s a family made up of the Thomas Family, the long term servers, and bartenders (on any given night you’ll find many of the same folks working that were there the first night we ever went to Charlies), and the repeat customers. It’s a place to enjoy a good drink, some excellent food, in a familiar surrounding. It’s a place where they know your name, and you know theirs, and where you feel at home! Is there anything better you can say about a restaurant? It’s home!
If you remember I said above that Sue had morphed from customers and server to friends? Well, I’m happy to say that Tuesday night isn’t the only night of the week, because on Friday, we exchange positions, and Sue gets to be the guest at our house! Her favorite spot is on our front porch, but all through the year, you can depend that if all 3 of us our around town, Sue will be dropping in on us about 5:30, and I get to make HER a drink! You’d have to know me to really understand what a kick that is for me! She’s a good friend, and important part of our Ocean City life, and one of the reasons we are so glad that a place we’ve loved forever, has become our forever home!
See you are Charlies!