The Boiler Room at Congress Hall

As regular visitors to Cape May over the summers, we have formed a few traditions.  One of these is a visit to Congress Hall on our first night in town.  The impressive Colonial-style building is omnipresent in Cape May, a historic landmark that now houses one of the most posh hotels in town.  Trust us; you cannot miss it on any stroll to, or from, Washington Street Mall.  (See “eats” for more information on the building and its signature restaurant, Blue Pig Tavern.)

Of course, Congress Hall as also home to the “Boiler Room,” a subterranean nightclub named after the large device that once served as the block-long building’s main source of hot water.  Nowadays, with live music and comedy acts featuring several times a week, the rough, ready and refined basement attracts a diverse cross-section of imbibers.  Ultimately, it’s our preferred watering hole in which to escape the balmy nighttime heat of Cape May, and yet, the space also has another trick up its sleeve...  Thanks to its proximity to Philadelphia, the bar regularly features musicians from the city who escape summer humidity to entertain Cape May visitors by the beach.  It’s a union that pleases everyone.

Our favorite of these Philly-based acts is Frank Bey, a soul/ blues performer we’ve had the pleasure of hearing several times at the Boiler Room, some of which were simply serendipitous.  Bey began his singing career at the tender age of four while living in Millen, Georgia.  In the years since, he has toured throughout the country, and abroad, with bands like the Otis Redding Review.  Now in his Sixties, Frank Bey performs classic sets of funk to crowds that simply cannot get enough.  But don’t let his advanced age fool you!  This cat can outfunk any 20 year old hipster who sets foot in the joint.  (The Boiler Room crowd grows decidedly younger as the night progresses.)  

Frank and his talented band certainly have their groupies, as evidenced by the dolled up cougars who sing n’ sway near the front of the Boiler Room’s dropped dance floor.  While Bey’s set-list is never duplicated, fans have their favorites from the singer’s magical mix of classic hits and original compositions, each of which he manages to make his own.  Our most beloved tune has to be “Hit The Penny,” a somewhat risqué ditty that heats up the room with both humor - and a groove.

Since the temperature inside the basement can get downright chilly in the winter months, the Boiler Room at Congress Hall is only open Mid-March through December, and even in that limited time, uncorks bottles on Friday and Saturday nights only!  During the height of the summer season, expect additional events on Thursdays and Sundays.   Check their online calendar to find out when Frank Bey and his band are playing next! 
Set of Drifters video:  For a clip from this event, check out our YouTube channel!

Boiler Room at Congress Hall - 39 Perry Street, Cape May, NJ  08204, (609) 884-6507,

Frank Bey -

The Pilot House

At times, your “Set of Drifters” have a little difficulty categorizing a location.  Is this place more a restaurant or a bar?  Is this shopping experience really just more an “essential?”  Then there are those times when the decision is made for us.  A visit to The Pilot House, a casual eatery just steps off from Cape May’s main thoroughfare, offered one of these occasions.  

By night, we immediately vibed off the spot; its red glow pouring out from windows that looked into a quasi-vintage seafaring themed establishment.  We made a note to check back another day since we had just stuffed ourselves on Blizzards at the local Dairy Queen on Washington (see “goodies.”)  A few days later, our purview of the menu at the door comforted us with a selection of seafood and chops that was sure to sate any hunger - particularly one starved from a three-week beach bod diet!

Inside, The Pilot House ambiance proved dated, a term we use to describe locations that haven’t had a renovation in a long time, yet for some odd reason do not take advantage of a “kitsch factor” that might elevate their atmos up a level or two.  In the end, this place is utilitarian - perfect for families by day and local imbibers by night.  And let’s face it, neither constituency could care less how authentic the doo-dads on the walls might be!

Upon sitting down, our eyes immediately zeroed in on the small drink menu that stood atop our table.  Glancing at the mouthwatering options, we had a tough time remembering that we’d chosen The Pilot House for lunch - you know sustenance in the form of food!  Our no-frills waitress helped us pick out the best cocktails from the list, then took our food order before heading over to a table of 12 that had just been seated across from us.  We knew service was sure to slow down from that point on.

After about 10 minutes, our drink orders finally arrived.  While both were indeed sublime, the “Strawberry Cheesecake Daiquiri” easily topped the “Pound Cake Martini,” a concoction perhaps too dependent on pineapple juice.  And though we were not necessarily looking to get bombed at 1:00 PM, we were forced to order a 2nd round to maximize the weak booze content.

Another 20 minutes passed before one morsel of food arrived..., and regretfully, these selections did not fare as well as our drinks.  While the clam chowder was tasty, our crab cake platter and grouper sandwich left a lot to be desired.  (Set of Drifters tip:  Any time the word “platter” is used on a menu, you can bet quality will be compromised.)  Perhaps we ordered the wrong items, or maybe the kitchen was having an off-day?  Either way, we suggest a trip to The Pilot House is better anticipated in terms of its sweet cocktails rather than its food.  Still, if you are looking to feed the kids on the cheap, you could do worse.  (Kids’ entries start at $5 USD.)

The Pilot House is open daily for lunch and dinner.  Hours vary depending on the day of the week, but a safe bet is that the spot will be open from 12:00 PM until 10:00 PM.  Happy Hour runs Sunday through Friday from 4:00 PM until 6:00 PM.

The Pilot House - 142 Decatur Street, Cape May, NJ  08204, (609) 884-3449

The Ebbitt Room at The Virginia Hotel and Cottages

At times, your “Set of Drifters” have a little difficulty categorizing a location.  Is this place more a restaurant or a bar?  Is this shopping experience really just more an “essential?”  Sound familiar?  (It’s called humor, folks!)  Seriously though, sometimes we categorize a place as one thing since we did not indulge in it as another.  Such is the case with The Ebbitt Room at The Virginia Hotel and Cottages.

We had first visited the Virginia back in 2006 when its ground floor still featured a whimsical candy store/ antique trove.  A recent renovation by the same team behind Congress Hall, however, has upped the ante quite a bit, transforming what was once a “down home Americana” sleeper into one of Cape May’s most celebrated establishments.  Even if you’ve already secured accommodations elsewhere, you’ll definitely want to visit the newly chic-ified grounds, complete with 24 rooms in the main building and five additional cottages out back.

Perhaps the pièce de résistance at the Virginia is its critically-acclaimed Ebbitt Room dining hall.  We had tried to get reservations for dinner on our last night in town in 2011, but the award-winning spot was booked solid!  And though “Plan B” was soon solidified at the Blue Pig Tavern (see “eats”), we still made it a priority to first check out The Ebbitt Room’s “Front Porch Bar,” named as such for the impeccably-styled veranda that wraps around the Virginia facade.  Our friendly bartender, a young bloke presumably from Eastern Europe, immediately welcomed us by offering tastes of other drinks he had just mixed for nearby patrons.  The Ebbitt Room’s (lethally) inventive drink menu includes such clever selections as “The All Organic Green Tea Martini,” “Ginger Lemonade” and the “Cucumber Saketini.”  Try one - try them all, but be prepared, these babies pack a punch.  (Luckily, most everything in Cape May is within walking distance, so you do not have to worry about the drive home!)    

While a more casual menu is served on the “Front Porch,” most barflies are waiting for their table inside the Ebbitt Room itself.  Executive Chef Anthony Micari is in charge of sating tummies here with his variety of American regional seafood and meat options.  The “Raw Bar” is a popular option, serving up heaps of Alaskan King-Crab, littleneck clams and beef carpaccio to those so inclined.  Make sure to save room for dessert as well.   The “Sticky Toffee Pudding” sounds impossible to pass up.

The Ebbitt Room is open Sunday through Thursday from 5:00 PM until 9:00 PM and Fridays and Saturdays from 5:00 Pm until 9:30 PM.  The “Front Porch” serves a more standard “bar menu” during lunch hours.

The Ebbitt Room at The Virginia Hotel and Cottages - 22 Jackson Street, Cape May,    NJ  08204, (609) 884-5700