Saturday, November 18, 2017
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Original Boardwalk bar recreates a colorful, bygone era

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Evocation of nostalgia is pretty common stuff for bars and restaurants. People enjoy drinking or dining in an environment that reminds them of good times from days past, so we have themes and décor to induce such memories.

The good old days that I remember — the 1980s — haven't been explored much in this arena, at least not in ways other than the ubiquitous music nights. But some forms of nostalgia seem to transcend the experience of actually being there. Think about it — '50-style diners have been a thing pretty much since the actual '50s.

The Original Boardwalk Grill and Sports Bar in Clearwater puts a slightly different spin on this ever-popular trope, focusing less on sock hops and rock 'n' roll and more on a popular form of amusement from that era — the beachside boardwalk.

Today many of these attractions — think Coney Island and Atlantic City — have seen better times, but they were once among the most popular tourist destination.

Whether you were there for heyday of the beachside boardwalk or not, you can see it commemorated at the Original Boardwalk in the form Aof dozens of photographs from Santa Cruz to Ocean City adorning the walls. Then there's the actual '50s-era boardwalk materials used in the construction of the bar.

If this last bit seems a little gimmicky, it's at least interesting. The entrance is built from a salvaged stretch of the Coney Island boardwalk, with benches to match. Appropriately, this flooring extends all the way back, making the entire bar and restaurant not only situated on top of a boardwalk, but on a piece of one of the most iconic ones in U.S. history.

Part of the front wall is left open, giving the interior — wide-ceilinged and long — a breezy, open vibe that works nicely with the theme. Even the pastel color scheme mirrors those found around the boardwalks of the day. Speaking of mirrors, there's a funhouse one positioned between the entrance to the bathrooms (themselves decorated to look like beachside cabanas) that really completes the picture, especially when combined with the painting of Asbury Park's Tillie the Clown on the adjoining wall. You've really got to give these guys credit for going all out.

Naturally, the specialty drinks have names that reference attractions at historic boardwalks, such as Lucy the Elephant and the Cyclone Concoction. Most are the type of fruity drinks that you could imagine drinking during a day at the beach — tropical juices, flavored vodkas and rums, fresh fruit garnishes and so on. I personally enjoyed The Boss, a potent, rum-based tribute to Bruce Springsteen; and the Stone Pony, a liquid Creamsicle named after the Asbury Park concert venue.

Of course, there's plenty of amusement at this Boardwalk. A small arcade in the back has a few classics like Ms. Pac Man and a claw game, as well as modern fare such as Golden Tee, Megatouch, and my new favorite, video Skee-Ball. A row of flatscreens above the bar broadcast the current game, and when their audio is off, music from a digital reproduction of a Wurlitzer jukebox is on. As with predecessor Tommy Duff's, there's also a small stage next to the bar dedicated to karaoke.

Theme bars can generally go either way, but the amount of thought and work put into this one makes it stand out. There's certainly no other place around that I can think of where you can indulge in this particular type of nostalgia, whether you have fond memories of the era or, like me, you were born 30 years later.

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