For One Night, ‘Crane’s’ Recaptures the Fun of a Bygone Era

Aug 01, 2018
Photo by: Jack Reynolds

For more than 30 years, Jackie Vee and Paul Presto made the Surf City Hotel the place to be on late Sunday afternoons and early evenings with their interactive musical show featuring everything from top 40 to classic oldies and ethnic-oriented sing-along ditties. That scene was re-created on the grounds of the Beach Haven Moose Lodge in Manahawkin July 28 for what was billed as the the Crane’s Surf City Hotel Reunion, inviting former employees and customers to reminisce. Hank Crane ran the popular establishment from 1972 to 1997, and during that time the business was known as Crane’s Surf City Hotel.

“We had been thinking of doing this for a few years,” said event coordinator Mike Kaiser. “We wanted to do this as a tribute to Hank because those were great times.” Proceeds benefited the Southern 33 Athletic Club, of which Kaiser is president. The club sponsors scholarships for Southern Regional High School student athletes.

Kaiser is a name long associated with the Surf City Hotel. Mike’s father, Bill, bartended there in the early 1970s. Mike worked as a bartender in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and his son Todd currently serves up drinks in the establishment’s Beach Club.

He estimated the turnout at 275, but said it might have been higher had an afternoon thunderstorm not lingered shortly before the event kicked off. Presto and Vee played a straight three-hour set, beginning at 6:45.

“It had been eight years since we played together, and I’m surprised we still remembered some of the songs,” said Presto with a laugh.

The duo began playing at the Surf City Hotel in the summer of 1977, and were mainstays until 2010.

“For 15 of those years, we were playing seven nights a week,” said Presto. “But the Sunday show was always a special one. The key to our success was interaction. It was like one big party, a lot of people singing along and dancing.”

Vee said he traveled up from Florida for the special gig.

“There sure were a lot of familiar faces out there,” he said. “It sure was a success, and maybe we can come back and do it again next year.”

“It feels the same way now when I first started going there 40 years ago,” said Kevin Adair, formerly of Ship Bottom and now living in Manahawkin. “Not only that, but I’m running into people who I haven’t seen in years.”

“You had to get there early to get a good seat at the bar,” said Jodi Brazill of Hillsborough. “You also got a chance to sing when they passed the mic around.”

For 37 years, Bud Armstrong worked at the establishment as a bouncer – or as he prefers, “doorman.”

“Jackie and Paul’s show was always about having a good time,” he said. “There was a friendly atmosphere. We rarely had any fights or difficulties with people. People came to have fun, to laugh and sing along.”

“There was great camaraderie with the waiters and waitresses, as well as with the employees and the customers,”  said Tom Ostroski, who bartended in the 1980s. “Jackie and Paul were the best entertainers on the Island. No matter how many times you saw them, they made you laugh, and you wanted to keep coming back.”

Tara Redmond, a former waitress, said she built lasting friendships.

“Even when I finished law school, I’d still come down and work the summers because it was such a great experience,” she said.

Soaking up the scene was Crane himself, marveling at how many former employees and customers showed up.

“We were all about having fun, just like what we’re doing tonight,” he said. “It’s too bad we had all that rain because I think we would have had a lot more come by.”

Crane said he sold his establishment because he could see changes in the summer season, such as more weekend activity and less-busy weekdays and the fact that college students go back to school in August instead of working through Labor Day weekend.

“But I have no regrets. I had a lot of great years, and for one night, we were able to recapture that feeling,” he said.

— Eric Englund

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