Sweet Freedom: An Ode to the Margate Dairy Bar

Down the Shore, you get your first taste of independence served in a cone.

Margate Dairy Bar shore ice cream

Soft-serve ice cream at the Margate Dairy Bar / Photograph by Michael Persico

I never learned to drive. Some combination of my anxiety and my overprotective mother made it feel like something that just wasn’t for me. That’s part of why I love living in a city now — walkability. The suburban confines of Elkins Park didn’t have that.

Down the Shore, though, my mom didn’t worry so much. Something about our Margate place felt safer to her. So I was allowed to walk by myself — to the gym, to the beach, around town. I say “around town,” but it was pretty much just that stretch of Ventnor Avenue with Wawa, Knit Wit, Jamaican Me Crazy, and, of course, the Margate Dairy Bar. But it was enough.

Dairy Bar’s been around in one form or another (thanks, Hurricane Sandy) since 1952, and if you grew up going to Margate, chances are you’d end your day there, seated at one of the bubblegum-pink picnic tables, eating soft-serve and giggling with your friends about something you’d forget by next summer. Dairy Bar was, for many of us, our first crack at independence — the first place we could venture on our own, away from the watchful eyes of our parents. Now, decades later, we bring our kids there after the beach. And someday, sooner than we hope, they’ll walk to the Dairy Bar themselves.

To this day, it doesn’t feel like summer to me until I get a vanilla cone with rainbow jimmies from that teal-tile window. It tastes like freedom.

Published as “Sweet Freedom” in the June 2024 issue of Philadelphia magazine.