Most customers at the legendary, crazy-busy downstairs bar at the Parker House in Sea Girt come back weekend after weekend all summer long. When Paul Higgins was working his way through college as a bartender in Sea Girt, he used to regularly visit the Parker House. That was in the 1950s.
Over the past 67 years, Paul's been busy getting married, raising a family, all while returning each summer from Pittsburgh to Sea Bright to enjoy the breezes off the ocean. He still drives, still goes to the gym and still lands blues and fluke off the beach.
It wasn't until Paul was reading a new book,100 Things to Do at the Jersey Shore Before You Die, that he realized that the Parker House was still thriving. This week, he returned for a visit to the bar and to have lunch at the restaurant on the main floor overlooking Sea Girt.
An Irish-Catholic kid from New York City
Paul grew up in the Riverdale section of the Bronx. In New York, his father worked for the courts which shut down every July and August. To escape the heat of the city in the late1930s, the family purchased a house on Ocean Avenue in Sea Bright -- a house that Paul still owns.
As a teenager during World War II, Paul and his friends worked in the bakery at The Essex and Sussex Hotel (now a condominium) in Spring Lake. "We had a ball," he said. They worked early mornings, spent afternoons at the beach and returned to work in the kitchen during the evening rush. (See photo below of Paul in front of The Essex and Sussex today.)
In 1950 after high school, Paul was drafted into the army. After a stint in Korea, he returned to attend college and spend the summers back in Sea Bright. As he was over 21 years old, he was able to get a job as a bartender at the grand Stockton Hotel in south Sea Girt and the Tremont Hotel, right around the corner from the Parker House in the northern section of the beach.
Paul has a Parker House postcard from about 50 years ago with a slogan on the back that reads, "Famous for fun and food." He remembers it as a quiet place. It was more subdued than the
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Sand Bar at the Tremont Hotel and less formal as the Stockton House.
In the years since Paul's last visit to the Parker House, Sea Girt has seen the demolition of the Tremont Hotel, a fire that destroyed the Stockton Hotel and the disappearance of other hotels and cottages that once brought daily and weekly visitors to Sea Girt and Spring Lake, the so-called "Irish Riveria." Today, the area around the Parker House is residential, even though the beach and the Sea Girt Lighthouse are a block away.
The Parker House has soldiered on as a family-run business, owned by three families who see themselves more as curators more than owners of an 1878 building. (Paul is pictured below with Shane Matthews, manager and representative of one of the families.)
Since the late 1970s, from Memorial Day to Labor Day, the bar is one of the hottest spots on the Jersey Shore. The VIP card holder list for the Parker House has more than 1,400 names. And there's a waiting list of more than 1,000 people hoping some day to purchase a VIP card to allow them to skip the line.
The Parker House logo has become so well known that part of the restaurant has been converted into a gift shop with shirts, hats and gifts. All you have to say is "God's Basement" and generations of visitors to the Jersey Shore will know what you mean.
If you see Paul in Sea Bright out with his fishing rod at the ocean, be sure to stop by so he give you the inside scoop on the Parker House.