By Donald Wittkowski
The Ocean Drive in Sea Isle City is the quintessential seashore bar, a place so unadorned and unpretentious that few people refer to it by its formal name.
Most people affectionately call it the “OD.”
Housed in a white building that dates to the 1800s and was once a hotel, the OD flaunts its casualness.
One of the bar’s most popular attractions is the No Shower Happy Hour, a party scene unfolding on Saturday afternoons that encourages customers to trudge in straight off the beach in all their swimsuit-wearing, messy-hair glory.
“People have a desire to have fun at the Jersey Shore. This place brings it out,” co-owner Ralph Pasceri explained of the OD’s appeal to multiple generations of customers over the decades.
The OD is one of Sea Isle’s most iconic bars, perched in the heart of downtown at the corner of 40th Street and Landis Avenue. No GPS system or MapQuest directions are needed to find it, though.
Simply look up in the air as you enter town on the John F. Kennedy Boulevard gateway and you’ll see the big sign on top of the building that boldly proclaims “Ocean Drive” in red letters.
The sign has been there as long as Pasceri can remember. Now 51, he recalled looking at it whenever he would sleep over at his grandparents’ house on Pleasure Avenue, behind the OD, when he was 5 years old.
Pasceri has been with the bar for 36 years, first as a teenager who worked there washing dishes and sweeping the floors during his summer vacations from school.
He progressed to become general manager, a position that eventually led to him buying the place in 2002 in partnership with his brother, Pat, and friend Michael Roberts. Michael Roberts is the cousin of the previous owner, Joe Roberts, a former South Jersey politician who served as speaker of the state Assembly from 2006 to 2010.
The Pasceri brothers and Michael Roberts also own the adjacent O’Donnell’s Pour House, an Irish pub at 39th Street and Landis Avenue.
As to be expected, a business as old as the OD has had a succession of owners dating to the 1800s.
“We’re sort of this building’s temporary caretakers over time,” Ralph Pasceri mused of the transition in ownership.
Currently one of Sea Isle’s oldest landmarks, the building traces its history to 1885, when it was first known as the Philadelphia House, a hotel.
Out of curiosity, Pasceri went to the county courthouse in the 1990s and sifted through a musty old deed book to research the building’s history. The land where the building stands today has connections to the family of Charles K. Landis, the real estate developer who founded Sea Isle City in 1882, Pasceri found.
Following changes in ownership over the years, the Philadelphia House was transformed from a hotel and dining establishment into the Ocean Drive in the 1940s.
Pasceri pinpointed the birth of the OD’s more casual vibe to Joe Roberts’ ownership beginning in 1984. At that time, the bar became more entertainment-focused. One of the live acts that Roberts brought in was the two-man cover band “Secret Service.” To this day, “Secret Service,” whose members include Dominic Albanese and Craig Phillips, remains a centerpiece of the bar’s entertainment.
But not everything remains the same at the OD. Pasceri explained that even though the building is more than a century old, improvements to the physical structure – including the floors, ceiling, restrooms and the bar – have been made over the past 10 years.
One big change was the removal of an old, 30-foot-long shuffleboard table that took up valuable real estate in the middle of the bar. The shuffleboard was donated to the city’s fire department two years ago.
In 2012, the OD opened the Sandbar, an outdoor eating and drinking area popular with summer patrons. The Sandbar, however, is vulnerable to rain storms because it is covered by only a tent-like structure.
The owners plan to solve that problem by replacing the tent with a permanent roof and columns. The project is scheduled to be built this fall and will be ready to welcome the summer crowds next year.
“It’s going to look much nicer than the tent,” Pasceri said. “It will be bigger and provide more shelter.”
The Sandbar has its own attraction of sorts courtesy of Mother Nature. When Hurricane Sandy pummeled the Jersey Shore in October 2012, the Ocean Drive and other local businesses were inundated with floodwater.
About three and a half feet of water swamped the Sandbar. After customers began asking about the storm damage, the owners decided to paint a “Sandy line” on the doors to mark the flooding level.
The Ocean Drive recovered quickly from the hurricane, reopening just months later.
Now, as the peak summer tourism season comes to a close, the OD will revert to a weekend-only schedule through September, before closing down for the off-season.
It will reopen for New Year’s Eve, the city’s Polar Bear Weekend celebration in February and St. Patrick’s Day. In April and May, it will be open on weekends and then will return to a full schedule starting the Memorial Day weekend.