Welcome to Rehoboth
Rehoboth Beach is the resort you remember from childhood, when the summer air smelled of saltwater and mowed lawns, and cocktails were served on screened-in porches. No matter how trendy or even flamboyant its restaurants and shops become, the town itself -- shaded by trees, colored by cherry blossoms and banks of azaleas and with a boardwalk that holds firmly to the Norman Rockwell tradition of bandstand concerts, boisterous volleyball matches and saltwater taffy shops -- remains one of the most attractive and accommodating resorts in the entire Delmarva stretch. The beach here is wide and usually crowded where the sands meet the boardwalk. Beachgoers who prefer their privacy may want to head north or south of the boardwalk area to more empty shores.
Its name, which means "broad places" in Hebrew, is the one 16th-century explorers gave its great bay; the resort was founded in 1873 as a Methodist meeting camp. It was intended to be a Christian establishment where families came to participate in church-affiliated activities; but the town's reputation as a summer resort spread, and its camp meetings were discontinued within a decade.
(You can still see one of the original wooden "tents" or cottages, which were typical of these summer retreats all over the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic in the late 19th century, on Christian Street, where it now serves as the headquarters of the Rehoboth Beach Historical Society).
Rehoboth Beach today is far and away the area's most heterogenous resort, where 100,000 annual summer visitors mingle easily with the year-rounders who staff the outlet malls; and where the highly influential gay and lesbian residents who sunbathe along "Poodle Beach" at the south end of the boardwalk now trade beers with the beach house roomies from adjoining Dewey Beach -- and where a family of Hasidic Jews in black from head to toe can march along the water's edge in counterpoint to the retirees' morning power walk without inspiring a single remark. It's as upscale as Bethany's gated communities but more accessible, as commercially savvy as Ocean City but more sophisticated.
Downtown Rehoboth is where the hippest boutiques, the hottest restaurants and most gay-friendly nightspots are clustered (along with the requisite wear-'em-once T-shirt and tacky souvenir shops) within the four square blocks between Baltimore and Rehoboth avenues from the boardwalk to Second Street. The more upscale residential areas are just to the northeast; and Dewey Beach, which has only a tiny commercial strip, is really just the frathouse/intern west end of Rehoboth. Route 1 is where you'll find the outlet centers, the video stores, the family buffets and so on.
Out and About
The north side of town, especially along Baltimore Avenue, is home to a number of intriguing and frequently very upscale furnishing shops. Twist (39 Baltimore Ave; 302/227-6608) is filled with massive serious-decorator metalworks such as floor-to-ceiling Italian mirrors, deep-tufted sleigh beds whose "arms" spoof convertible sofas, and elegantly twisted platters and vases. The Chameleon spa/salon shop (127-C Reho both Ave; 302/227-5649) has spawned the Beautopia (Rehoboth Mews pathway; 302/227-0572) art-glass boutique across the alley, where you can yearn for Museum of Modern Art-sanctified limited edition mirrors, tiger-stripe perfume bottles, zebra vases and amber lamps (and accumulate great debt).
There are even more animals at the new Noah's Lark (139 Rehoboth Ave.; 302/227-6005), where all the household and personal accessories, faux-folk art, toys, picture frames and so on feature representatives from the creature kingdom. And up at 700 Rehoboth is Shore Haus (302/227-3403), the sort of super outdoor-cum-indoor furniture shop that Soho made famous and that fans of Ancient Rhythms and Urban Country in Bethesda will find familiar.
Those boutiques are interesting, but serious shoppers will head away from the beach to U.S. 1 and its three mega-outlet malls. Rehoboth Outlet Center 1 (on the west side of Route 1 north of Route 24) features 40 stores, including Reebok, Ann Taylor Loft, Jones New York Sport, L.L. Bean, Liz Claiborne, Polo Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger and Perfumania. Rehoboth Outlet Center 2 (on the west side of Route 1 south of Route 24) has 24 stores, including a Vanity Fair factory outlet, Kitchen Collection, Donna Karen Company Store, M.R. Ducks, Old Navy and Nike. And the biggest of all, Rehoboth Outlet Center 3 (on Route 1, opposite Rehoboth Outlet Center 2), offers more than 60 stores, including Sunglass Hut, the Athlete's Foot, Osh Kosh B'Gosh, Bugle Boy, Casual Corner, Dockers, Dress Barn, Eddie Bauer, Guess?, J. Crew, the Jockey Store, Levi's, Mikasa, Oneida, Royal Doulton, Etienne Aigner, Nine West, Black & Decker, Paper Factory and Samsonite. For information about any of these outlets, call 888/746-7333 or 302/226-9223.
If you prefer your getaways to have more culture than that offered by 25-percent-off sales, drop by the Rehoboth Art League (12 Dodds Lane, Henlopen Acres; 302/227-8408), which has classes, workshops, exhibitions and festivals year-round.
For adventure and fun far from the shopping centers, drop by Bayside Adventures (Collins Street and Route 1; 302/226-2012) and rent a pontoon boat for a slow sunset cruise on the bay. Faster-paced thrills can be enjoyed on mini racing cars, water slides and kiddie boats at the Midway Shopping Center (Route 1 across from Rehoboth Outlet Center 1; speedway, 302/644-2042; water park, 302/645-8064).
If you have to choose one resort town to dine in, Rehoboth should be that town. You could try a different full-service restaurant every evening for a fortnight and never even have to go all-you-can-eat (or do without seared tuna).
The most upscale restaurants, in the trendy sense, are generally on the west side of Rehoboth Avenue, especially along Wilmington Avenue. These include the flagrantly theatrical setting that is LaLa Land (22 Wilmington Ave.; 302/227-3887), two joined cottages adorned in purple paint, fairy-dust glitter and rococo gilt and turning out one-world fare to match (a bit of a lamb rack here, a little butternut ravioli there and some prosciutto-wrapped prawns with corn risotto and shiitaki "fries" there, all in the $20-somethings); the light-heartedly Pan-Asian Yum Yum, with its Raku-like smattering of skewers, stir-fries and noodles (37 Wilmington Ave.; 302/226-0400); the Cultured Pearl (19 Wilmington Ave.; 302/227-8493), still the only destination for serious sushi along the shores; and Fusion (50 Wilmington Ave.; 302/226-1940), which has stood the test of time with its eponymous fare, but whose showiness is now matched by its preparation: a long, slender super-crisp cone of crab and black bean "spring roll" with multiple sauces ($9.50); braised lamb shank over rich Mediterranean couscous ($24); caramel-bourbon barbecue pork loin ($21.50) and chef Jeff Theimann's signature Peking duck salad ($8).
The new kid on the block is a potential blockbuster: Espuma (28 Wilmington Ave. facing First; 302/227-4199), Spanish for "foam," an offshoot of the highly successful Fox Point Grill in Wilmington, which has replaced Pierre's Pantry at, appropriately, the corner of Wilmington and First Street. It has Matisse-meets-"Miami Vice" decor and an ambitious and sometimes counterintuitive Spanish-influenced menu: "sizzled" glass eels with white asparagus and red wine "meringue" ($15); braised lamb breast with octopus daube, white bean puree and eggplant-sorrel gratin ($26); Provencal onglet with squid demiglace and poached finger potatoes ($24); and Tunisian grilled porgy with green-apple conserve and barley-lentil salad ($24).
The restaurants are a little more informal, and a little more eclectic along First Street and Baltimore Avenue: the East Texan turf-and-jerk BBQ Iguana Grill (52 Baltimore Ave.; 302/227-0948) and the fun-trashy Tex-Mex Plumb Loco (10 N. First St.; 302/227-6870); the Middle Eastern Camel's Hump, with its comfy caravan of a veranda (21 Baltimore Ave.; 302/227-6870) and the brand-new let's-put-on-a-bistro Our Place (37 Baltimore Ave; 302/227-4143). Blue Moon (35 Baltimore Ave.; 302/227-6515), which was one of the first adventurous "modern American" restaurants in Rehoboth, has, after 18 years, settled into its role as den mother to the fusion crowd: Standouts include a roasted duck quesadilla with smoked mozzarella ($7.75); lobster, shrimp and crab cannelloni ($24); grilled tuna with ginger-sake glaze ($22); Chilean sea bass with coconut curry, honey-soy glaze and soba noodles ($22); and pepita-crusted salmon with miso broth, tomato angel-hair pasta and crystalized ginger ($20).
The somewhat more settled restaurants are in the middle of town, such as the steadfastly continental-French Chez La Mer (Wilmington and Second avenues; 302/227-6494), which has been serving up sweetbreads, veal medallions and roast duck to the same equally steadfast clientele for two decades; the classic Baltimore-style shore-fare of Jake's (First Street off Baltimore Avenue; 302/227-6237); and Sydney's Blues & Jazz Restaurant (25 Christian St.; 302/227-1339), which has moved from trendy Cajun to more distinctive Gulf Coast/Creole fare. Or, they're out on Highway 1, like the admirable Big Fish Grill (4117 Highway 1; 302/227-9007), which makes good use of its blackboard full of grillables but doesn't scruple to fry up a few oysters. Just in Thyme (Highway 1 at Robinson Drive; 302/227-3100), despite its garden-cafe name, is a surf-and-turf spot that still sees the good in that old phrase. Look for New York strip au poivre ($17.50) and rack of lamb ($17.50) plus a sort of chicken pad Thai ($13.50); a veal and shrimp combo in lobster sauce over fettucine ($15.50) or a chicken-lobster-artichoke version with Spanish cream sauce ($17.50); and an over-the-top golfers' special "carpetbagger steak" that is a filet mignon stuffed with blue cheese and lump crab ($22.50). And Mark Steele of the updated Lamp Post (at the Route 1-Route 24 intersection; 302/645-9132) has just earned Chef of the Year honors from his Delaware peers.
Let's start north of town, out on Route 1 at the Midway Shopping Center, where you'll find the best pool hall at the beach, Cape Billiards (39 Midway Shopping Center; 302/644-0399). Simple as can be, it's got a few dozen very nice pool tables (and some video games) and is a great way to escape the beach craziness. Just up the road, past the go-kart track, you'll find the renovated Movies at Midway (302/645-0200), a 14-screen movie complex opening this week (the new "Star Wars" flick is set to fill at least one screen, so you know that the theaters' specs are state of the art). And as a bonus for night owls, Movies at Midway promises late shows -- even on weeknights.
Between Route 1 and the Boardwalk, you'll find a couple of new nightspots. First there's the Third Edition (59 Lake Ave.; 302/227-6121). Yep, the same folks who run the Third Edition in Georgetown figured out that a good part of their clientele hits the beach come summer, so they followed 'em out to Rehoboth, taking over the old Fran O'Brien's spot. Extensive renovations are still underway, but look for the Rehoboth Third Edition to open in time for Memorial Day and to fill the needs of the same J. Crew crowd you'd find at the Georgetown branch.
Rehoboth's other newest spot is the Purple Parrot (247 Rehoboth Ave.; 302/226-1139), which opened earlier this month in the building that used to be Oscar's. Created by the owners of the nearby restaurant Iguana Grill, the Parrot (as it will surely come to be known) is a two-story bar covered with murals, not only on the walls, but underfoot and on the ceilings. The upstairs bar ("The Birdcage") is already a favorite hangout of bartenders and waiters from other establishments, and has a large, L-shaped bar to handle the expected crowds.
Across from the Parrot is Dogfish Head Brewings & Eats (320 Rehoboth Ave.; 302/226-2739), which continues to make lots of ambitious beers and book plenty of worthy live music (bands who perform their own material are the norm, meaning: please don't request Jimmy Buffett). Dogfish Head now makes most of its beer at its Lewes brewery, and if you're interested in the process, they give tours.
Sydney's Blues & Jazz Restaurant (25 Christian St.; 302/227-1339) is just down the street from Dogfish Head and caters to a slightly older crowd. The bar side of this nice Creole restaurant features live blues and jazz, with slightly rowdier fare from time to time. You can also sit at the bar and order from the restaurant menu while you're listening to, say, Deanna Bogart do her boogie-woogie. Arena's Deli & Bar (Village by the Sea Shoppes, 149 Rehoboth Ave.; 302/227-1272) has been booking regional bands for years and is a favorite of locals. Swank restaurants the Cultured Pearl (19 Wilmington Ave.; 302/227-8493) and Yum Yum Pan Asian Bistro (37 Wilmington Ave., 302/226-0400) have both started adding live music to their calendars.
It's always a laugh to drive by Dewey's Bottle & Cork (1807 Highway 1; 302/227-7272) and read the words painted on its outside wall: "The World's Greatest Rock & Roll Bar!" But heck, for what it is, it's nearly perfect. It's a big cinderblock hall with a stage and a small outdoor patio that serves nothing but cans of Budweiser poured into plastic cups. The sound and light system, upgraded before last season, are terrific -- good enough to bring in big name acts this year like Peter Frampton, everything, Cowboy Mouth, Reel Big Fish, Vanilla Ice and Dogstar (that's the one with Keanu Reeves in it).
There are also a few Web sites I've found that have lots of nightlife information specifically for Rehoboth and Dewey that you can check out before planning your shore nights: www.partydigest.com, www.beachbuzz.com and www.gayrehoboth.com.
Source: The Washington Post