Ocean City Officials: Just Say No To BYO

And you thought Pennsylvania’s liquor laws were screwy.

You probably know that Ocean City, New Jersey bills itself as the Jersey Shore’s family destination. And you also probably know that the town is dry, with not a bar or liquor store in sight on the barrier island’s quiet 6.9 square miles. But what you may not know, and what I didn’t know until yesterday, was that the wrapped-way-too-tight folks who run this little village are so backwards and, perhaps, just plain bonkers that they don’t even let you bring-your-own beer or wine to a restaurant.

That’s right. This summer, you can go to O.C.’s Cousin’s Italian restaurant with your wife on a Saturday night and sit down for a nice, romantic, candlelit meal over plates of pasta and seafood, but if you tote along that bottle of red that you picked up across the bridge in Somers Point earlier in the day and try to drink a glass with dinner, you have broken the law. And the restaurant, in allowing you to consume the devil’s juice, has also broken the law and can be fined hundreds of dollars.

“I have an Italian restaurant, for God’s sake, and you want to have a glass of wine with your meal,” laments Cousin’s owner and O.C. Restaurant Association V.P. Bill McGinnity. “The economy is in the shitter, but we let all these people – both tourists and year-round residents – drive over the bridge so they can have a little glass of wine.”

It wasn’t always this way. Ocean City has been dry since the 1800s, with a clear law against the manufacture, storage and sale of alcohol, but it wasn’t until things got a little less family-friendly in the mid-80s that the city passed an ordinance to stop all public consumption in restaurants. “Back in those days, there were people nearby doing kamikaze nights and things like that, and things got a little out of hand,” remembers McGinnity. “But we believe that people have changed. Thirty years ago, I could stick a cheap piece of meat in front of you and call it filet mignon, and you’d say it was delicious. Nowadays, you’d call me a friggin’ idiot. The educated consumer wants a glass of wine with their meal, and they should be able to drink it in our restaurants.”

Last week, the five boobs on O.C.’s City Council voted to keep things the way they’ve been since the days that we’d go to Sam Goody for the latest release… on cassette. I want to invite them all to drive 60 miles northwest to meet me for dinner in lovely and perfectly respectable and also barless Collingswood. We can go to Blackbird, IndeBlue, Nunzio’s, or any of the Wood’s other fantastic options. And I’ll even bring the wine.