Travel: Ocean Grove, NJ

Ron, Linda and I went for supper to Nagle’s in Ocean Grove, about a half hour ride from their home.  Ocean Grove was, and is, a Methodist camp town. The land is owned by the Methodist church — home buyers get a 99 year lease for their property and own the house but lease the land underneath. There is a huge meeting hall in the center of the 274 acre town, and a permanent tent encampment on the street alongside the meeting hall. Tent bungalows are handed down over the generations — getting one is well nigh impossible. The rest of the town is comprised of gorgeous Victorian homes, many old and some new built to look old.

When we were kids our $35 a week bungalow was one street over into Bradley Beach. At that time, you couldn’t drive in Ocean Grove on Sunday, or even have a car on the street — so all the Ocean Grove cars came over to Bradley to park for the day. The Ocean Grove beach was closed on Sunday, and the town was completely dry. Now, the beach is only closed until after church. There are no liquor stores but restaurants are BYO, and the Sunday driving ban is gone. The huge meeting hall hosts concerts and speakers as well as religious services and Wednesday night preachers.

At a point Ocean Grove went badly downhill; the wood frame Victorians looked shabby and forlorn. Lots of storefronts were closed. Then wealthy gays from Manhattan  began to buy up property and pour money into refurbishing the Painted Ladies, and the town has been transformed. The genteel elderly ladies in flowered silk dresses with matching waist belts and collars who are the Methodist stalwarts made peace with the advent of the gays, and the town has flourished once again. Jewish friends of mine found Ocean Grove on a list of charming shore towns and decided to go for the weekend. They were warmly welcomed and had no idea that back in the day Jews in Ocean Grove would have been an oxymoron.

Nagle’s has been there forever, and is an old pharmacy made into a restaurant and ice cream parlor. They offer a traditional turkey dinner with slices cut from a turkey, not a delicatessen turkey roll. They have home made soup. The ice cream is to die for. Rum raisin took the prize.

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