By DONALD WITTKOWSKI
For 25 years, Polar Bear Plunge mania gripped Sea Isle City in the middle of winter.
However, this year Sea Isle will not have the madcap event that traditionally attracts thousands of self-styled polar bears plunging into the chilly ocean on Presidents Day weekend.
But local bars, restaurants and retail shops are still preparing for a huge influx of holiday visitors that will awaken the beach town from its winter hibernation and provide an economic boost.
Mayor Leonard Desiderio predicted that Sea Isle will have a “banner weekend,” even without the plunge.
“As I’ve been saying all along, we have no reason to expect anything less than a success on Presidents Day weekend,” he said in an interview Saturday.
To replace Polar Bear Plunge weekend, the business community has come up with a new theme for the holiday celebration – the “Presidents Day Weekend Festival” for Feb. 18-20.
“We wanted to make sure that the world knows that Sea Isle is doing something. The Presidents Day Weekend Festival sounds like a great idea to me,” said Ralph Pasceri, co-owner of the Ocean Drive bar and its sister property, O’Donnell’s Pour House.
“I guess we’re moving away from the Polar Bear Plunge weekend and rebranding it as the Presidents Day Weekend Festival,” he added.
Pasceri said that every bar, restaurant and store owner he has spoken to intends to be open over the holiday to give visitors a weekend of partying, dining and shopping.
“We’re geared up and ready,” Pasceri said.
The festival will include a full lineup of live entertainment at the bars, along with special offers at restaurants and retail shops.
“All of the restaurants and businesses are opening up. There will be live entertainment, DJs and sales. We will be ready to welcome lots and lots of visitors,” Pasceri said.
Mike Monichetti, owner of Mike’s Seafood, also believes that Sea Isle will enjoy a busy holiday weekend.
“Weather depending, Sea Isle should have a full weekend of people coming down to enjoy the holiday. It should be as busy as the usual Presidents Day weekend,” said Monichetti, whose seafood place will offer takeout diners and specials.
Monichetti, though, is urging visitors to follow safety protocols to protect themselves and their loved ones from COVID-19 while enjoying a holiday weekend getaway at the shore.
The Polar Bear Plunge was canceled in 2021 because of the pandemic. This year, there is another reason the plunge isn’t being held. Although the plunge has been Sea Isle’s signature winter attraction for 25 years, a new city policy no longer allows privately run events such as the plunge to be held on public streets, parking lots and municipal property.
When it enacted the policy in September, the city cited the strain that private events put on the police department and Public Works crews when they were held on public property. Potential liability lawsuits being filed against the city were another reason for the new policy.
With the plunge not being held this year, the business community came up with the idea for the Presidents Day Weekend Festival. Essentially, it will be a collection of entertainment and special events held at bars, restaurants and shops around town.
O’Donnell’s Pour House, the Irish-themed restaurant and pub, will be open the entire holiday weekend, Pasceri said. O’Donnell’s outdoor dining area will also be open on Saturday during the holiday weekend, with live music to entertain the crowds and portable heaters to keep everyone warm under the tents.
The Ocean Drive bar will open on Friday night heading into Presidents Day weekend. There will be live music and DJs. The OD will reopen at noon on Saturday, with the popular bands Secret Service and the Juliano Brothers providing live music as the headliners. The OD’s outdoor area, the Sandbar, will be open on Saturday under a heated tent.
Customers should check with other bars and restaurants in town for their entertainment lineup over the holiday weekend.
Desiderio said restaurants are already taking reservations for the holiday, underscoring just how lively Presidents Day weekend will be in Sea Isle.
In another sign that a big weekend is shaping up, realtors have told Desiderio that local residents are busy renting out their homes for the holiday. Other residents who are vacationing in Florida for the winter intend to return to Sea Isle for the holiday celebration, Desiderio said.
“People are just looking to get out for the holiday weekend,” the mayor noted.
Pasceri said many second homeowners are also expected to head to the shore over the Presidents Day weekend to escape from cabin fever.
“Overall, I think it’s going to be a great weekend,” Desiderio said. “We look forward to seeing a lot of our friends.”
When asked whether he thinks many people will miss the Polar Bear Plunge, Desiderio replied, “That, we’ll have to wait and see.”