898 days after the beginning of the Sars-CoV-2 worldwide pandemic, aka COVID-19, Todd and I returned to Ocean City for a LONG overdue vacation. Disclaimer: the five days we were there were hotter than Satan’s ass crack, and you will be hearing a lot more complaints about this in the days to come.
At the risk of repeating myself, the tale of my discovery of the Dunes Manor Hotel in the early 90s goes like this: I was invited to join a group of guy friends in Ocean City, Maryland (I’d never been). We parked our beach blankets a direct line from the condo on the Bay to the ocean, which happened to be in the shadow of this enormous rose-colored hotel. While the boys entertained themselves and me with critiques of passing racks (yes, THOSE racks), I looked up at this hotel and decided I was going to stay there one day.
The Dunes Manor Hotel is kind of a landmark, at least to me … as we cross the Assawoman Bay Bridge to what is technically the barrier island of Ocean City, I can pick it out immediately along the skyline. The bridge, which is also Rt. 90, brings you out at 62nd street, and then you go south on Coastal Highway until it becomes Philadelphia Avenue around Higgins Crab House. The Dunes is a block east between 28th and 29th street. Every room is ocean front.
Our first room was on the top – or 11th – floor. Why “first room,” you ask? Because someone in this non-smoking hotel was smoking grass on their balcony later that night and the smoke was seeping through the cracks in our door (I guess) and our room smelled faintly of pot. If you know Todd and Tara, any “faint” smell is really a get-me-the-hell-away smell. It was all you could smell on the balcony. So we marched downstairs to the front desk at 9-something and asked for another room. Well, Todd did. I went to the bar and ordered a drink.
But before all of that… We checked into Room 1102 and unpacked and I stepped out on the balcony, gazed at the ocean like a long lost friend and took a deep breath. We decided to start the vacation with a long hot walk on the boardwalk, which begins at 27th and runs three miles south to the tip of the island.
Tradition dictates some t-shirt shopping and people watching. We ended up at Shenanigans just as the rain began to fall. Bypassed the line for tables and landed on the last two stools at the far end of the bar. Todd is a frozen drink man on vacation and I, ever an enigma, this time went straight for a Painkiller.
We ordered the Guinness Gravy Fries – a glorious plate of golden fries laden with mozzarella and gorgonzola, with a pot of Guinness gravy to dip them in. That was dinner. We had two more drinks as the rain tapered off and then we called it a day. We walked the twenty-four blocks back to the hotel, which is when we discovered our room was a little too high for us.
We were moved to a room on the tenth floor, unpacked again, and went back downstairs for drinks at the bar and listened to Miss Shirley on piano. Miss Shirley has been playing for all the years I’ve been coming here – she has been playing for over 30 years! She’s still effervescent as ever and decidedly ageless. It’s a scene of bygone days, people seated around the grand piano on couches and comfortable chairs singing old-time songs like She’ll Be Coming Round the Mountain, When Irish Eyes Are Smiling, New York, New York, and All of Me.
We sat at the bar for about an hour or so, where I – on my fourth cocktail and committed to oversharing – made new friends with these two young married women. No idea how much they know, but hopefully it stopped short of our home address and an invite for cocktails. Todd rarely, if ever, reels me in I’ve noticed, and I’m thinking now that perhaps we need to discuss this.
Woke up the next morning to dense fog – not just in my head, but outside on the balcony. No, it was not marijuana. It was the real deal, and it was so opaque you couldn’t see where the water met the sand. Todd made us coffee as I tried to dilute the alcohol in my blood with copious amounts of water. It was Sunday and the end of Jeep Week and so there was a caravan of Jeeps on the beach in the morning after the fog had vaguely lifted, so that was fun to watch.
We decided to go for breakfast at Dumser’s at 124th Street which was, unfortunately, no longer serving breakfast. Much has changed in OCMD since we last visited, yet much has also remained the same. We landed at the Dough Roller, where the first thing I smelled was burnt toast. Todd had a breakfast sandwich and I had a western omelet with…. burnt toast.
We played miniature golf at Jolly Rogers in the unforgiving heat. We were following a dad with five children, the youngest of whom needed to be helped with every stroke and so we waited. On. Every. Hole. Neither of us really minded, we were there to have fun and there was no rush to do anything but relax, but the curmudgeon in me couldn’t help but observe that it never occurred to dad once to let us jump ahead. And it was amplified when mom showed up out of nowhere around the 12th hole and smiled apologetically at us and offered to let us jump ahead. (We declined.)
We planned a late afternoon dinner at the Bull on the Beach, so we could still get seats at the bar. We stumbled on this locals gem several years ago that I wrote about on a previous trip and have loved it ever since.
He wanted to walk. WALK! From 28th street to 94th street in 89 degrees, 90% humidity. Yeah, no. I’m not sitting at a bar with my clothes stuck to my skin and my hair matted to my head. We hopped the bus (for the uninitiated, The Bus runs the length of the island 24 hours a day for $3 which is awesome, but not as awesome as it was in ’92 when it only cost a dollar), which was – by pandemic standards – covid in a box, a petri dish on wheels – and we were packed in like sardines. For what it’s worth, it was the last time we rode the bus.
Bull on the Beach has a delicious Open Pit Beef sandwich, which I ordered with Beer Battered Onion Rings because what’s an onion ring without beer? Todd had wings. There were fries too! When we’re on vacation, there’s no such thing as cholesterol, fat, or clogged arteries, or fatty liver for that matter. And before ya’ll accuse me of insensitivity, all of these things are very real issues in my life so I’m aware.
I agreed to walk back afterward and we stopped at The Ropewalk, another beachy indoor/outdoor affair with frozen drinks and a kick-ass view of the bay at sunset. Not terribly crowded, we seated ourselves on a pair of Adirondacks in the sand around an unlit firepit and listened to the live duo playing great old tunes and the whole thing was so lovely.