Let the records show that the winter of 2018/2019 truly felt like the longest one in history.
I write this on the last day of winter, even though I’ve been in the springtime state of mind for well over a few weeks now — I just bought a pair of shorts yesterday! Knowing full well that I might not be able to wear them for two-plus months! — and even though there’s still very much the possibility that we’ll get another snowstorm between now and Easter. Weather-wise, anything is possible on the Eastern Shore, for better or for worse.
But, since we have had a few blessedly beautiful days since March began, it’s not so far-fetched to imagine that sunshine and a gloriously crowded beach are just beyond the horizon.
There are many craft breweries and craft beer-centered bars on the Shore with abundant outdoor seating, but the ones below are on, or less than 10 minutes away from, the beach. So next time it’s unseasonably beautiful for early spring in Maryland and Delaware, you can enjoy a freshly brewed Maibock and then stroll along the seaside.
This isn’t so much a celebration that spring is finally, supposedly upon us, but more of a plea: That there will be no more snow until 2020, and that we’re all just slightly sunburnt by Memorial Day. Here are a few of our favorite local spots by the beach, where you can take in the great outdoors whenever that time arrives.
The legend of Crooked Hammock goes “goodbye suit and tie, hello flip flops in the sand,” according to the brewery’s owner and general manager Rick Garrahan, who literally had the place built with the aesthetic of a backyard beach escape in mind. That’s exactly what it is.
Even if you tried your hardest to dream up the physical, craft beer-centered amalgamation of your fondest springtime BBQ/baseball game/generally carefree sort of memories, all combined into one central place with cornhole and cream ale at the ready, no imagination could conjure anything close to the backyard beach paradise that is Crooked Hammock.
The Lewes brewpub, minutes away from the beach, the highway and the Cape May Lewes Ferry, is the perfect spot for Delaware daytrippers to rest their weary bodies and their weary children who might be a little cranky after an hours-long road trip. It’s a child-friendly place, providing games like ping-pong, cornhole and ring toss, which are also available to the adults who are kids at heart and need a break from the suit-and-tie lifestyle of the proverbial Big City.
That’s not to say that Crooked Hammock is just a pit stop on the way to the beach. It is a destination, and should be viewed as such. You could spend an entire day at the Crooked Hammock lounging in an off-centered hammock and sipping session beers all day, and still not be ready to leave. But you can at least pick up a six-pack on your way out.
Just down the street is another brewpub that’s as local-focused and Eastern Shore-inspired as Crooked Hammock, but with an entirely different ambiance that’s more beachy-farmhouse than beachy-backyard. Big Oyster Brewery is For the Shuckin’ People. And their back patio is perfect for the shuckin’ springtime.
It almost makes you feel like you’re on a camping trip. Inside, an inviting wooden bar looks out onto large windows that put the brewing operation on full display. The dining room is lined with decor that includes distressed old doors, chalkboards and photographs depicting Lewes’ history. 16 wooden tap handles behind the bar are topped with decorative oyster shells, and wine is available for those who aren’t in the mood for beer.
Outside, patio seating offers views past the white picket fence out onto all the natural beauty that is rural, coastal Delaware. String lights make up on the nights when stars aren’t shining bright overhead. Folks can enjoy the full lunch or dinner menu that includes both raw and cooked seafood and meats like steaks and ribs that are smoked in-house, or just enjoy a beer, hang out, and maybe play a few games.
The art of the bar hop in Coastal Delaware has been perfected with Crooked Hammock and Big Oyster side-by-side, both prioritizing that outdoors Delmarva atmosphere and some really good beer.
Now we’re venturing into Ocean City, where the boardwalk is kind of the Punxsutawney Phil of the Eastern Shore. The more shadows there are of locals and day-trippers strolling the boardwalk, finally wearing light jackets instead of big winter coats and snow boots, the closer you are to spring.
Backshore Brewing, located on 10th Street and the Boards, is open on weekends all year long. I’ve trekked through a boardwalk covered in several feet of snow to reach Backshore and warm up with a winter stout, and the view from inside the small brewery — which looks directly out onto the beach — was beautiful then, too. But nothing quite compares to sitting out on the boardwalk patio while the sun’s beating down, people-watching and gazing at a beach that’s actually crowded with sunbathers and families.
Nothing says “beach” like surfboard tables, surfboard flights, the hippie VW bus out front, and the actual, literal beach just steps away. The tap list at Backshore is always rotating, which means there’s always something new to try. When Hammerheads Bar & Grill next door opens for the season, the party really starts, and their burgers, “shark bites” and beef brisket are ready to pair with your Backshore beer.
Take a seat under an umbrella and enjoy the view. Backshore has the perfect pairing of beach and beer.
Fin City/Sneaky Pete’s
Fin City beers are brewed up in the rafters of Hooper’s Crab House, which opens for the season on May 3. It seems like far away now, but it won’t be long until you can sit right on the Isle of Wight Bay at Sneaky Pete’s — the big dock bar that juts off of Hooper’s — and enjoy a cold Fin City brew with a view.
Fin City is distributed locally, so a lot of their beer can be found in restaurants and liquor stores around Ocean City, but there’s nothing quite like digging into multiple bushels of crabs from Hooper’s and washing down the taste of Old Bay with an IPA or a session ale that was brewed just a few steps away.
You can even dine on Pirate Pete’s, a little boat docked parallel to the dining room, filled with seven cozy booths.
If you’re a waterman or waterwoman who counts down the days til it’s warm enough to lift the anchor and feel the wind in your sails, you might prefer to bring a six-pack on your boat rather than enjoy it on a restaurant’s patio. In that case, Fin City makes the best local beer to bring along for the ride. The sessionable Bimini Key was made “to keep you refreshed on the boat,” though of their beers will do, except the Bad Luck Banana if you’re superstitious.
The Shrimp Boat
It’s not a brewery, but The Shrimp Boat is a great little spot in West Ocean City that’s near the beach, offers fresh local seafood and has an admirable craft beer selection. It opens for the season on April 5, so it’s a perfect place to ease into the outdoor beer-drinking season.
Last summer, the restaurant expanded its outdoor dining area, so even on busier days there’s usually a picnic table available. Their Shore Craft Beer list of local beers on draft, in bottles and in cans also seems to get bigger every summer, but in reality, they’ve prioritized local breweries for years. Their selection — which includes Big Oyster and Fin City, and also Tall Tales, Rubber Soul and Dogfish Head — has always been vast.
“The thing that surprises so many people that have never been here before is our selection of local craft beers,” The Shrimp Boat’s owner Joe White once said. “Promoting local seafood and local beer go hand in hand.”
Outside and inside The Shrimp Boat, the atmosphere is laidback and relaxed, like many other beachside breweries and bars that line the Shore. When spring really does roll around this year, not just on the calendar but also in the air, it’s time for a trip to Delmarva to make the most of the season.