Welcome to Ocean City: Happy to be alcohol-freePizza joints and popcorn stands jostle for attention all along the boardwalk - but good luck finding a drink. A full century after the Prohibition era began in America, being dry has become a trademark for the beachside resort.
Signs posted all along the Atlantic serve as a stern warning to anyone tempted to crack open a beer: “Alcoholic beverages prohibited. Strictly enforced. Fine $275.
Although Prohibition ended nationwide in 1933, the island is one of hundreds of American cities and jurisdictions that continue to ban alcohol sales. Although as many as 150,000 people flood the resort during summer weekends, it doesn’t have any bars.
You can drink a glass of wine in the privacy of your home, but to do so you need to trek to one of the large liquor stores strategically placed at the end of the bridges onto the island - often jammed with traffic in high season.
Drinkers or not, residents have embraced their town’s sobriety with a certain pride, particularly in comparison to less virtuous neighbors along the Jersey Shore. The city’s slogan is “America’s greatest family resort.”
So when a local business owner in 2012 gathered enough signatures to hold a referendum on whether customers could bring their own bottles of beer or wine into restaurants, some saw it as a threat to the city’s image.
“If you have a successful brand, you don’t mess with it. Nobody is gonna change McDonald’s golden arches,” said the former real estate agent.
The 2012 BYOB (“bring your own bottle”) referendum sharply divided the city. Opponents were accused of being religious zealots; supporters of seeking to open the flood gates of debauchery.
Chris and Sharon Hoffmann, owners of the Captain Bob’s restaurant, said they have been boycotted for calling for a little more flexibility when it comes to alcohol.
As it turned out, the “no” to BYOB won a comfortable two-thirds majority, but the couple has since found a way to work around local alcohol laws by privatizing their restaurant.
Patrons pay $10 per table to join the “Foodies Dinner Club” and are then able to bring their own bottles, as if they were going over to a friend’s house to eat.
Approved by local authorities, the concept is catching on in the island - where high-end restaurants are almost nonexistent due to the fact owners are unable to offer alcoholic beverages with meals.
“Why should I have to leave the island to get a good dinner?” lamented Chris Hoffmann.
That said, neither he nor his wife would dream of pushing for alcohol to be legalized throughout the city.
“You have to respect the culture,” he said.