By DONALD WITTKOWSKI
Don’t drink and dip?
One Sea Isle City resident believes there may be a way to revive the Polar Bear Plunge: Make it an alcohol-free event.
Anne Organ, who lives on 39th Street, wonders whether it would be possible to have the traditional chilly dip in the ocean again if all of Sea Isle’s bars would close down at the same time as the plunge.
“Just keep the bars out of it for a little while,” Organ said during public remarks at the City Council meeting on March 8.
She suggested that the plunge could possibly be held at noon and the bars could stay closed until perhaps 1 or 2 p.m. to reduce or eliminate drinking during the event.
Mayor Leonard Desiderio, who listened to Organ’s remarks at the meeting, said it was the first time he had heard of the idea of having the bars shut down and would have to give it more thought. Desiderio is the owner of Kix-McNutley’s, one of Sea Isle’s best-known bars.
In an interview after the Council meeting, City Business Administrator George Savastano indicated that Sea Isle would consider Organ’s suggestion, but made no commitments.
Organ said it was actually one of her friends who came up with the idea of possibly having an alcohol-free plunge. Organ, in turn, brought it up at the Council meeting March 8. She often speaks at Council meetings about a variety of local issues.
For 25 years, the Polar Bear Plunge had been the centerpiece of Sea Isle’s Presidents Day weekend celebration. The holiday weekend of partying, dining and shopping would awake Sea Isle from its winter hibernation and give local merchants an economic boost in the middle of February.
But a new city policy barring privately run events such as the Polar Bear Plunge from being held on local streets, municipal parking lots and public property put an end to the ocean dip this year – and possibly for good.
Each year, the plunge traditionally would attract thousands of participants and spectators. The event had grown into a hugely popular spectacle and a blockbuster for the local economy over the Presidents Day weekend.
Yet the throngs of plungers and partiers prompted concerns among Sea Isle officials about crowd control.
City officials said the big crowds simply put too much strain on the police and Public Work departments and also exposed Sea Isle to potential liability lawsuits if someone were injured or killed. Last September, the city enacted a new policy barring the plunge and other private events from being held on city streets and public property.
As a result, the official Polar Bear Plunge was scrapped this Presidents Day weekend. Small groups of self-styled polar bears, though, held their own unofficial plunges to carry on the tradition of jumping into the frigid ocean.
Sea Isle police and lifeguards patrolled the beaches to respond to any emergencies that may have occurred during the unofficial plunges. No emergencies were reported.
Organ told City Council that members of her family held their own unofficial plunge. She commended police for the job they did in protecting the plungers along the beachfront.
At the same time, she said she missed the costumes and pageantry of the large-scale official plunge and hoped that the city would find some way to resurrect it, including the possibility of having the bars close down while people were jumping in the ocean.
The city does not have the authority to shut down all of the bars in town to accommodate one event. In New Jersey, bars are regulated by the state Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control.
Bar owners would have to voluntarily close their doors if Organ’s suggestion for an alcohol-free plunge ever became a reality.
James Bennett, who owns the Oar House Pub in Sea Isle, said it simply “wouldn’t be feasible” for the bars to voluntarily close down for the plunge, assuming it could be held again.
He noted that Presidents Day weekend is an important time for local businesses, so it wouldn’t be beneficial for bars to close for an hour or two.
Bennett, who serves as chairman of Sea Isle City’s Tourism Commission, also pointed out that some of the bars and restaurants, including the Oar House Pub, run charity events during Presidents Day weekend. Those events also underscore the importance of having bars stay open over the holiday weekend, he said.
Bennett organized the privately run Polar Bear Plunge when he formerly owned the LaCosta Lounge in Sea Isle. LaCosta had served as the entertainment hub for the plunge for years, but now it is closed and under redevelopment by new owners.
Although this year’s Presidents Day weekend didn’t have the official Polar Bear Plunge and the enormous crowds normally associated with it, the town still had plenty of visitors in the bars, restaurants and retail shops.
“It was a very good weekend,” Savastano said.