It's hot: Driving on the beach

Vehicles on the beach in Brigantine. Driving on sand can be tricky, experts warn. (Drone images by PhotoGraphics)

Doug Taylor says there's a lot to learn before driving on the beach. Novice drivers, he says, frequently keep their cars in drive.

"They think they can just put it in drive and go," said Taylor, corresponding secretary for the New Jersey Beach Buggy Association. "That will cause a lot of problems. As you speed up, your tires spin faster - and you get stuck. You have to keep it a lower gear ratio."

One of the top spots for driving on the beach is in Brigantine - one of only three beaches in New Jersey that allows driving year round. The others with year-round beach access are Island Beach State Park in Ocean County and the Sandy Hook portion of the Gateway National Recreation Area in Monmouth County, beaches much farther north.

"It's just a really cool feeling, riding across the sand," said Randy Johnstone, vacationing recently from out of state with a friend who has a beach-access permit. "It helps you don't have to carry anything down to the beach, either." Johnstone pointed to the array of toys and umbrellas spilling out of the back of a large SUV.

It's surprisingly easy to sign up in Brigantine: Anyone with a 4x4 (not all-wheel drive) vehicle, a driver's license, registration, proof of insurance, and $175 can get a yearly permit.

Brigantine, an island community just northeast of Atlantic City, sells a little fewer than 3,000 regular permits a year, according to an official at the beach-fee office. Additionally, about a thousand senior and disabled permits are sold annually.

From 2012 to 2014, a May parade of 4x4 vehicles was held on the beach in Brigantine. The New Jersey Beach Buggy Association held a Beach Driving Clinic in Brigantine in April, the first time it had held the class there.

"It's a lot different than driving on snow or anything else," said Taylor, of Turnersville. "You'll fishtail in the beach much more so than you will in snow - because the sand gives. The most important thing is to keep the tire pressure low."

Jersey's Beach Buggy Association, founded in 1954, has 1,800 active members. One of the main aims of the group is keeping beach access open to the public. Another is making sure the public doesn't do anything to damage the beach; it runs a courtesy patrol from Seaside Park to the Wildwoods.

"The biggest thing we tell people is: Just don't go to the bathroom on the beach," Taylor said. "You'd be surprised how many people do it. We recommend people bring a standard self-contained toilet."

Most South Jersey towns offer winter driving permits, with varying start and end dates: The municipalities on Long Beach Island, Ocean City, Avalon, Stone Harbor, and the Wildwoods all have off-season driving. The cities on Absecon Island (Atlantic City, Ventnor, Margate, and Longport) allow driving on the beach only during the annual Striper Derby.

Cape May does not allow beach driving at any time.

In Brigantine, permit-holders can drive onto beaches from Lagoon Boulevard, Harbor Beach Boulevard, and Seaside Road at the southern end of the island and on 14th Street at the north end. The beach called the Cove - closest to the Atlantic City marina casinos - is an especially popular spot to watch Fourth of July fireworks.

Per the New Jersey Beach Buggy Association, those wanting to drive onto a beach should keep several accessories in the vehicle: a standard hydraulic jack, air gauge, tow ropes (not chains), several boards (to put under the wheels if the car gets stuck), shovel, flashlight, and first-aid kit. Fisherman's Headquarters, a store in nearby Ship Bottom, also recommends jumper cables, a can of Fix a Flat, fire extinguisher, air tank, and tide chart.

The Beach Buggy Association says it encourages its members to watch out for one another. Taylor said there's an unspoken code among beach-driving enthusiasts to help one another out.

"Our patrol is not about policing the beach, it's about another set of eyes on the beach," he said. "If we see a big washout, we're going to let local authorities know so they can deal with it."


It's Hot: The Super Tully Nut

Mark Tully spent the winter of 1969 trying to concoct a new drink. It didn't go perfectly.

"Now, I'm not a drinker, even though I have this bar," says Tully, owner of #1 Tavern in North Wildwood. "I do drink, but I'm not a heavy drinker. So what I would do is, I would be testing and testing all day. And my wife would call me up from downstairs and say we were ready for dinner. And sometimes I would come up and I would be a little plastered."

It all worked out. The Super Tully Nut, a five-liquor blend with a recipe known only to the inventor himself, has become a Jersey Shore tradition in the 47 years since its introduction.

Tully's real name is Romolo Leomporra. (Yes, his twin, Remo, completes the pairing of the mythological founders of Rome.) He grew up in East Germantown and went to high school at St. John's in Manayunk. He performed in musicals at Villanova and did music fairs in the Philadelphia area and five shows on Broadway. Eventually, he settled into a life of nightclub work around the world. "Everyone back then had the same names. . . . If I were starting now," he says, joking, "I'd have stayed Romolo."

Nightclub work eventually landed him at Marty Bones' Nut Club in Wildwood. He saved up $2,000 and invested in a motel: Le Marquee Motel, at 20th and Surf, now the Aruba Motel.

"Every unit was named after a musical comedy," Tully said. "There were no numbers, no letters. And the history of the musical was contained in each room."

The motel eventually led to the purchase of a nightclub and, later, the bar at First and Atlantic Avenues, within sight of the ocean. The bar's large windows open out onto First Avenue. The decor is decidedly divey - it has the wood-paneled look of a bar unaltered since it opened. Tully has owned the place 47 years.

The name of the drink came after Tully took over the Nut Club from Marty Bones, he said. A bartender he'd hired said every good nightclub had a special drink. It was halfway through the summer, so Tully came up with a drink and called it a Tully Nut. He served it in a tall, thin glass primarily used for the zombie cocktail. Two weeks later, he changed to the hurricane glass, which the drink is still served in (except on busy weekends, when it's served in a plastic cup).

The next year, he spent the winter coming up with the perfect drink. He had four contenders and enlisted his dad, his wife, and a bartender to do a taste test.

"We were in the back of my motel there in the office, and I had all the drinks, and everybody had a piece of paper in front of them," Tully said. "They were not allowed to talk about each drink; they could just write. So we tested them, all four of us. It turns out that everyone picked the exact same drink."

This drink was clearly better than the slapdash concoction he'd made the summer before, so he started selling it at #1 Tavern and gave it an upgrade: the Super Tully Nut. It looks like a foamy Hawaiian Punch and tastes like alcoholic Kool-Aid. A Super Tully Nut costs $9 - pricey, some complain about online. Tully says the price has been the same for a decade. "You tell me another product that's been the same price for 10 years."

Tully concedes the ingredients aren't as important as his formula - and the mystique of the drink.

"I'm the only one who makes this," Tully said. "It's made by me. It's a secret. My wife doesn't know what's in it. My sons don't know what's in it. What happens is, people like that. People don't want me to tell anyone what's in it. People like that."

The Super Tully Nut will outlive its namesake. Upon his retirement, he'll tell each of his two sons (Romolo and Christian) half of the recipe. There are also written and audio recordings of the full recipe; he has a complicated plan to have a friend tell his wife where to find them.

Somehow, a simple drink has become a North Wildwood tradition. The one-of-a-kind mystique of a place like #1 Tavern continues to draw people every year - as much for the drink as for the nostalgia surrounding the place.

"What people do now is they come in, sit down, and they take out their telephone, take a picture of, [the Super Tully Nut], and they send something out to their friends," Tully says. "And normally what they say is, 'I'm here and you're not.' "


mcquade@gmail.com
mcquade@gmail.com