Discovering Rehoboth Beach
By Jerry Portwood
Vintage Rehoboth Beach postcard courtesy of Rehoboth Beach Museum
The hydrangeas were in full bloom as we strolled a few blocks from Rehoboth Avenue and took in the the white picket fences, colorful wood siding, and gabled roofs of the one- and two-story craftsman bungalows. Rehoboth Beach is a Norman Rockwell fantasy town located along the Delaware coast, except gay men and women have found a refuge here and been calling it home for generations.
Typically when we think of gay beach towns—whether it’s Provincetown or Fire Island—we think of the modern aesthetic of The Pines or the rustic and relaxed eclecticism of P-town. So the unadulterated Americana that surrounds the main touristed strip is refreshing. “It’s the mix of gay, lesbian and straight folks,” Fay Jacobs explains, a longtime local and the author of memoirs about Rehoboth, her most recent titled For Frying Out Loud.
I'd heard about Rehoboth Beach for years from friends who live in Washington, D.C., Virginia, and the surrounding area who use it as their get-out-of-town destination. Now that Delaware has joined states that allow same-sex marriage, it's sure to become popular with even more folks from the surrounding Southern states looking for a destination wedding with all the amenities close at hand.
But taking a bus from near Penn Station in New York down to Delaware, a state that I only had glancing awareness of from family road trips, seemed like the perfect weekend adventure, and a welcome alternative to the hastle of getting to Fire Island (which for those without wheels and operating on a budget means taking several trains, a shuttle, and a ferry).
Baltimore Avenue is the "gay strip," with most people gathering at Acqua for drinks But of course the beach is the main attraction, and two are popular with gay visitors and locals alike: Poodle Beach and North Shore. Located at the far end of the board walk near Queen Street, Poodle Beach is considered the hipper, sexier alternative, it can get overly crowded and can seem intimidating for those not looking to show off their ripped body and expensive swimsuit. As an alternative, my partner and I enjoyed a leisurely Sunday bike ride to North Shore, which felt much more relaxed and inviting, proving to be the highlight of the beach excursions.
HOW TO GET THERE:
This upscale bus service has been operating between New York City and Washington, D.C., for about five years, and even ferrying D.C. boys from Dupont Circle to the beach for several years. But the “Beach Bus” from New York to Rehoboth launched during the weekend of New York City Pride, June 28, and so far it’s been a hit. Although it’s owned and operated by a gay couple, Asi Ohana and Richard Green, out of D.C., they don’t try to cater to a strictly LGBT clientele (my Friday trip from New York had mostly young, straight couples and single twentysomethings).
A bottle of water is offered as you board, and then it’s a democratic atmosphere, with the entire bus voting whether it will be a quiet ride, or include a movie (if the voting riders approve a film will be screened on the numerous TV consoles, then there are choices of the latest releases on which to vote), although most are just plugged into their WiFi.
On the way back after a salty, sandy stay, pick up one of the excellent, freshly prepared sandwiches at the Grub Grocery (305 Rehoboth Ave.) located just a short walk from the bus pickup/dropoff behind the fire station. The trip takes approximately four hours each way, but just look at the hunky lifeguards that could greet you.
WHERE TO STAY
While most of the regulars have shares in bungalows and homes, hotels are plentiful, although don't expect high luxury—a sort of shabby chic vibe pervades this semi-Southern locale. Hotel Rehoboth is perhaps the best bet for an upscale spot located right on the strip and within a few blocks from the most popular restaurants.
WHERE TO EAT
It's easy enough to find bar food and restaurants serving up huge margaritas but the beach town is not without its dining highlights. A popular restaurant on Baltimore Avenue with gay clientele is Blue Moon (it's also one of the few places that takes reservations). Don't be intimidated by the drag queens who entertain next door at the cabaret of the same name, the resto is a legit fine-dining establishment with seafood and other dishes prepared with a Continental flair.
Not too far away on the other side of Rehoboth Ave, try to score a table at Salt Air (50 Wilmington Ave., no reservations), which prides itself on locally sourced produce and fresh seafood—it's impossible to go wrong with the crab cakes or scallops.
Another gay-owned and operated business that is a popular spot for a refreshing treat is The Double Dippers (11 1st St.). Located near the corner of Baltimore Avenue, the ice cream shop is warm and friendly, serving Hershey's Ice Cream (not affiliated with the chocolate company) and has great flavors—Minty Moose Tracks, Road Runner Raspberry—you won't find at your Baskin Robbins. It epitomizes the mix of gay-straight that is so unusual in Rehoboth, everyone smiling together as they lick their desserts in perfect harmony.
Christopher Peterson has been performing in Rehoboth for decades, and his EYECONS show is one of the most stunning female impersonation acts I’ve ever witnessed—including a jaw-dropping transformation from Marilyn Monroe to Carol Channing, as well as a Judy Garland/Liza Minelli medley that will leave you speechless. He lives in Rehoboth during the summer months, performing on weekends, and migrates to his other popular gig in Key West, Fla., where he lives with his partner the rest of the year.