Bars, restaurants, culture and events… Dan Mathers’ weekly guide to what’s going on in Cape May
Although the Montreal Inn stands as a silent testament to his work, Harry Hirsch’s name now graces another building which he created and acts as a more obvious tribute to an amazing life. This past Thursday, Harry’s Ocean Bar & Grille celebrated a re-opening, a re-naming and a re-branding – it used to be Café Promenade – but more importantly it celebrated the life of its namesake.
Harry was a teenager in Poland when the Germans invaded during WWII. He was separated from much of his family and forced to live in the imposed ghettoes. Under the false promise of a better life Harry and his older brother Joseph both ended up in one of the most infamous concentration camps of the Third Reich – Auschwitz. He spent four years living in conditions that turned his heart to stone. As the end of the war – and the German occupation – drew near, Harry faced a firing squad but the soldiers moved on and, by a miracle, he survived. Later he left the country and came to America.
I’m certain I can’t do Harry’s story justice. The little I know is taken from a three-minute-and-thirty-second clip, available on the CBS website, that I watched after the opening party. Despite this clip’s brevity the message stayed with me. I think if I’d have known his story beforehand it might have lent me a different perspective from which to view this opening.
The little I knew of the name’s significance at the time of the party came from a story my boss, Jack Wright, had told me about a conversation he’d had with Harry Hirsch’s son, Larry. In this story Jack tells Larry he should rename the restaurant after his father – he should call the place Harry’s.
Larry had a slightly different memory of this story, and he told his version at the party. Now, I’m not going to say whose story I think is right because: A. I don’t know; and B. Any judgment either way could cost me dearly. On the one hand I could lose my job and on the other I could lose a place at Larry’s new bar which has one of – if not THE – best beer selections in town. I’m not willing to risk either option.
Now, about the beer. The bar at Harry’s is run by Jonathan Hirsch, Harry’s grandson. Although Jon does not have the benefit of the alcohol education that a Penn State degree bestows upon an individual, he did claim that his years at Boston University adequately prepared him for running the bar. “This is what I learned in my time at BU,” he said.
Well, Jonathan must have gotten a good education somewhere because his brew selections were impeccable. Everyone from the casual beer drinker to the beer nerd will likely be satisfied by the draft choices.
Rick Swain (of the hardware store family) stepped up to the bar and ordered a Coors Light. I chided him about his choice and pointed out all the other options. Rick just stared for a second before pointing at me and saying, “Twenty-five” then pointing at himself and saying, “Fifty-five. When you get to be my age you don’t need to try everything. You know what you want.” For the record, Rick, I’m only 23, but thanks for the wisdom.
At the other end of the beer spectrum, bartender Zach Smith reached into the fridge behind the bar and began extracting 22oz bottles ranging from a Belgian Trappist beer to the domestic Arrogant Bastard Pale Ale. At this point I’d like to take a moment to apologize to Zach for calling him Kyle.
Now, remember, all of this beer is in addition to a draft selection which incorporates a deliciously wide array of flavors and features beers you won’t find anywhere else in town. If there is another bar on the island that has Hennepin on tap, then I stand corrected… but I doubt it.
Jonathan takes pride in his new baby, and to showcase this he allowed me to see their keg room. I haven’t seen too many keg rooms (or other giant refrigerators full of kegs and hoses), but Jon assured me that his was state of the art. It has a safety relay that filled with beer and shut off when the keg kicks.
I was initially surprised to find that Harry’s wasn’t buying on a larger scale. All but one of the kegs in the system was a quarter keg. (For reference, the kegs we usually see are half kegs.) Jon told me this was because they are going to continually change the draft selection throughout the year and will be regularly replacing these half-sized kegs with a new selection. As if I needed another reason to come back. And, if you’re wondering, the only beer that wasn’t in a quarter keg was Guinness. Turns out they’re only available in one size.
My girlfriend Tanya and I spent most of the remainder of the party hovering around the cheese trays and fruit displays. We commented on how interesting it was that the food was presented on mirrors, while Kim Moryakov helped herself to mutant-sized strawberries which, despite looking like they’d been exposed to Godzilla-type radiation, tasted incredible.
When the bite-sized, fruit-flavored chocolate cakes were nearly depleted and the brownies were entirely consumed we bypassed the still-full vegetable platter and headed to the bar. On our way we passed Mayor Ed Mahaney, who acknowledged my cordial “Mr Mayor” greeting with a stone-faced glare. I’m guessing he saw my campaign ad…
While standing at the bar we met Steve Miller, the owner of Frescos and 410 Bank Street, who was nice enough to invite us to be his guest at Frescos later that night. Though it is not the subject of this column, I would be remiss in my duties as a journalist if I did not mention that the steak I was served at Frescos was the best I have ever had. They took filet mignon, chopped it into three pieces and tenderized it into super-juicy, flat sections that were cooked medium-rare. The fried olives are also worthy of a mention
But, back to the point. I am happy to say that I’ll be taking bike rides to Harry’s on a pretty regular basis from here on out. I’m ecstatic to see someone in town whole-heartedly embracing the craft beer culture that I love and appreciate.