Restaurants up and down the Seaside Heights boardwalk and the Boulevard served patrons for the first time in months Monday, most with a full menu of favorites that had long been available only for take-out.
The borough, like many other towns, adopted temporary regulations that allowed restaurant owners to receive permits to use sidewalks and portions of the boardwalk to expand their outdoor space to comply with Gov. Phil Murphy’s executive order which still bans indoor dining. But unlike a few other Jersey Shore towns, Seaside Heights will not allow “alcohol takeout” and drinking on the boardwalk or beach outside of areas designated for restaurants to serve.
“You can’t drink on the beach or the boardwalk and I’m sticking to that,” said Mayor Anthony Vaz. “I do not want this to go back to the way we were. I’ve worked too hard over the last five years to change our image – we’re not going back to the Snooki days.”
A few bars had been selling to-go drinks recently, but their owners were informed that the borough’s ordinances prevent customers from leaving the premises with a drink. Likewise, consuming alcohol on the boardwalk or the beach itself has long been illegal in town, and has been more heavily enforced in recent years as Seaside Heights has begun to shed its image as the hard-partying location of MTV’s “Jersey Shore” in favor of a family-oriented resort.
Restaurants in town with liquor licenses signed agreements acknowledging the borough’s ordinances and pledged not to violate them, said Christopher Vaz, the borough administrator.
“[The] police department and code enforcement division will be actively writing tickets under the borough’s open container ordinance,” Christopher Vaz said.
While visiting the boardwalk for this story, both code enforcement officers and police officers could be seen on patrol near restaurants and bars.
For the mayor, the progress over the last several years, during which time several rowdy bars have closed their doors and the town began promoting family-friendly events nightly during the summer, could be squandered by one story about drunken boardwalk antics or a fight on the beach. It contrasts with Atlantic City, where alcohol will be allowed on the boardwalk in order to provide a boost to businesses that are facing much smaller crowds with casinos remaining closed.
“I’m not the mayor of Atlantic City,” said Vaz. “He has his own city with its own situation and he and can make his own decisions. I think it was meant to help businesses, but some businesses take it too far – they say it needs to be in a container, so why not a plastic cup?”
Seaside Heights officials are taking the issue immensely seriously. If a visitor receives a summons for carrying an open container of alcohol on the boardwalk or beach, the establishment that allowed them to take it off-premises will also be subject to a fine. The policy is essentially unchanged from any other year, but after months of coronavirus-related cabin fever and mixed stories on the news about some boardwalks allowing alcohol, it is feared the practice could be more prevalent in 2020.
“We’ve made some successes. Are we going to go back to how things were?” Vaz asked. “It only takes one bad weekend.”