Dewey Beach: Grownups Gone Wild

Dewey Beach is where Washington singles—young and old—go to relax, drink, and find true love. Or at least a good one-night stand.

By: Hillary Jackson, Lauren Sloat, Denise Kersten Wills, Sonia Harmon, Eleni Savopoulos, Melissa Davenport

Check out our photo slideshow of extra pictures from Dewey Beach. 

Easy E is elated.

Tall and tan with a prominent brow and a Cheshire-cat grin, he bounds up to the outdoor table where a dozen of his friends sit at the Starboard, the bar that serves as home base for the party crowd at Dewey Beach. Most of the group finished work early Friday afternoon in Washington and hit the road for Dewey. Wearing coverups over bathing suits, they’re recuperating from last night’s drinking bout while warming up for today’s marathon.

It’s only 11 on Saturday morning, yet Easy E already has hooked up. “I just made out with a blonde!” he yells.

His friends seem mildly amused. Easy E established his reputation as the house player early in the summer—his first in Dewey—and his antics don’t surprise them anymore.

Every Friday, this group convenes at the house it rents for the summer. For $1,250 each, members get a place to crash and a fridge full of beer from Memorial Day through Labor Day. There’s no guarantee of a bed or a hot shower, but finding friends who want to party is a sure thing. And by late June, they’ve formed a close bond.

They hop on the same merry-go-round of Dewey bars and restaurants each weekend: tacos at the Lighthouse on Friday, breakfast at the Starboard on Saturday, live music at the Bottle & Cork in the afternoon, and drinks at the Starboard or Rusty Rudder Saturday night. Then it’s back to the Starboard for Suicide Sunday brunch, which features Bloody Marys.

“Each weekend is the best weekend ever,” says Kristen, a 27-year-old from DC.

Still hung over, she scans the breakfast menu’s 20 shooters and six morning cocktails. She orders a Bullshark—orange and raspberry vodkas, Champagne, orange and cranberry juice, and Red Bull. “It’s the hair of the dog,” she says.

Easy E wants to show off his morning conquest. “It’s her first time in Dewey,” he says. “I’ll bring her over and prove it.”

Art, a 28-year-old from Arlington, watches as Easy E heads out in search of the woman. “He always goes for Dewey virgins,” Art says.

Easy E—it’s an old nickname revived this summer—is 33 and works as a manager at a big tech company in Northern Virginia. At Dewey, he doesn’t talk about work. No one does. The point is to park your car, ignore your e-mail, and forget about the “real world” on the other side of the Bay Bridge.

Dewey is spring break for adults, a Neverland for recent college grads, young professionals, and even some middle-agers closing in on their AARP years. If you want to wear a stick-on mustache to the bar or do shots of Jägermeister at noon or make out with a stranger in public, you’ve come to the right place.

As one fortysomething Dewey regular says, “It’s a no-consequences weekend for people with high-stress jobs.”

Easy E takes his vacation from the real world further than most. He has “Dewey girlfriends,” regular hookups he doesn’t see or talk to anywhere else. He even has separate Facebook identities. His official profile, which he shares with colleagues, includes just one photo of him, in a business suit. His private profile has more than 1,200 pictures, many chronicling adventures in Dewey.

The bar is starting to get crowded. Art tries to strike up a conversation with a couple of women only to realize he met them last night. The details are foggy. He turns back to his housemates.

“Tip back your head and open your mouth!” he yells to Kristen. He pours Champagne from a bottle with a spout into her mouth. She holds up her hand for him to stop, but not soon enough, and foam sprays across the table.

Kristen’s housemates laugh and get ready for their turn. Soon everyone’s buzzed and covered in cheap bubbly.

The beach was party central until the town banned drinking there in 1986. Now the party has mostly moved into the bars. One Dewey veteran says he hasn’t gone to the beach in three years. Photograph by Jennifer Molay

As promised, Easy E returns with the blonde, but she seems drunk and slightly alarmed and disappears soon after he introduces her to the gang.

Damn. Easy E can’t believe it. He’d been planning to take her back to the group house for some midday fun.

A few blocks away, lifeguards with the Dewey Beach Patrol scan the ocean waves from high above the sand. They’re the town’s first responders to emergencies on or off the beach, but mostly in the bars. One of the rare beach rescues in recent memory happened a few years ago.

“I was sitting on the Dickinson Street stand,” recalls Dan Mazer, a tan 21-year-old from Newark, Delaware. “A sailboat kept coming too close to shore. We whistled at it, but usually in situations like that, it means someone’s had a heart attack.”

The boat—which he says was a 60-foot, $1.5-million yacht—crashed into shore. “When we get on it,” he continues, “there is a man passed out at the steering wheel. He’s British and he’s naked, with a bottle of Scotch in one hand.”

The lifeguards found his mistress below deck. Both were so drunk that they had to put on flotation gear before wading into the shallow water.

Today things are quiet, though it’s a sunny, breezy afternoon. The beach used to be the epicenter of Dewey partying, back in the days that longtime Dewey regulars still talk about.
Dewey may be tamer than it once was, but it’s still a giant frat party in comparison with quiet Bethany and kid-friendly Rehoboth. Photograph by Lauren Sloat

You could bury a keg in the sand, light a bonfire, and do pretty much whatever you wanted. There were people sleeping on the beach or running naked up and down Route 1.

The town was incorporated in 1981 and banned drinking on the beach five years later, making its lovely stretch of sand almost an afterthought to some. One seven-year Dewey veteran says he hasn’t made it to the beach in three years.

Families with toddlers and teens are interspersed with the singles on the beach. The town is trying to market itself as a family destination, with free movies and a weekly bonfire.

But the families mostly disappear on weekend nights, when Dewey belongs to the singles. The town may be tamer than it once was, but it’s still one giant frat party in comparison with quiet Bethany to the south and kid-friendly Rehoboth to the north. The drinking has just moved into the bars.

“The vibe here is out of control,” says a 24-year-old bouncer at the Lighthouse, a large waterfront bar. “Every night is a different story.”

His favorite stories star “cougars,” or women who prey on younger men. “They like dirty talk and want to go home with us,” he says. “Here, women over 30 can let go of their inhibitions and have a one-night stand.”

There’s no word for the male equivalent of the cougars, but they prowl Dewey bars, too. “Do I want to have sex with 20-year-olds?” ponders one 48-year-old man from Fairfax. “Yeah, but not every weekend.”

Another Lighthouse bouncer, 23 years old, saw a record-fast pickup earlier this summer. “A girl walked up to a guy and said, ‘I want to make out.’ And they walk out holding hands,” he says. “Later, I caught them on the back stairway . . . doing it.”

“Hi, ladies. Hey, I said hello. The least you can do is come over here and say hello.”

Easy E is attempting to lure women in bikinis to his beach towel and from there back to the house. He and Art carry cameras carefully wrapped in plastic bags to protect them from the sand. If they don’t capture a conquest in photos, it’s almost as if it didn’t happen.

So far there hasn’t been much to document. The boys have positioned themselves near a group of women in town for a bachelorette party.

The women who share their house are there, too. Hookups between members of the house are frowned upon because they create “drama,” which at Dewey is to be avoided at all costs. One house has a rule: No making out with housemates until August 1. After that—so close to the end of the summer—intra-house hooking up is okay.

At one group house, each person puts up $1,250 to cover rent for the summer—plus a refrigerator full of cheap beer for endless games of beer pong. Photograph by Jennifer Molay

Of course, rules are meant to be broken. Last night, two of Easy E’s housemates ended up together. But it’s an option of last resort.

For now, Easy E is focused on the bachelorette and her friends, even after he realizes most of them are married.

Art turns to Easy E: “Hey, remember that weekend when you hooked up with two bachelorettes and that one married lady?”

Easy E beckons to the bride-to-be. “You’re gonna cheat on your fiancé this weekend, sweetheart,” he says. But she giggles and walks away.

One of Easy E’s housemates, a 34-year-old from Wilmington, is dating a girl he met Memorial Day weekend. He tries to save money by meeting up with his girlfriend late in the evening, after she’s been drinking for a while. Let some other dude pay for her alcohol.

Drinks aren’t cheap. Dewey’s signature cocktail, the Orange Crush, tastes like a Creamsicle and costs $6. The Lighthouse sells so many that it goes through 100 cases of oranges in a weekend.

“I try to limit myself to $300 every weekend,” the housemate says. “But I end up blowing $500.”

Tired of striking out, Easy E opts for a new strategy: “I say we get up, find a new place, and pretend we’ve just arrived at the beach. And this time, no rings!”

At the Rusty Rudder that night, the cover band Burnt Sienna is rocking.

Lead singer Jeff Ebbert, a.k.a. Jefe—pronounced Hefé—jumps around the stage in designer jeans and a T-shirt. Tall and lean with buzzed hair, he’s the favorite of the women who pack the floor in front of the stage.

The police enforce noise limits at Dewey bars, but the music—covers of everything from the Jackson 5 to Kanye West—blares so loudly that you can’t stand anywhere near the speakers. In the crowd, a couple of fortysomethings make out like teenagers.

Burnt Sienna does gigs in Arlington, too. Many of the same people show up there, Jefe says, but they get wilder in Dewey. This is the band’s favorite place to play; nowhere does it get better rock-star treatment.

Each of the five band members makes between $50,000 and $100,000 a year plus perks from their adoring fans. At Jefe’s invitation, “Bachelorette Amanda” and her party climb onstage. Several start grinding with band members, rubbing up against them. One sits on the drummer’s lap, facing him, and bounces up and down.

“My drummer is getting the best lap dance of his life!” Jefe yells to the crowd.

Jefe, who’s been in the band 11 years, says it’s important to keep the women happy. Where girls go, guys follow. He’s in his thirties and is married to a nurse, but he doesn’t wear his wedding band while performing.

“Bachelorette Amanda” and her friends are the weekend’s alpha bachelorette party. They danced with the band Mr. Greengenes in the afternoon and climbed onstage that night at the Rusty Rudder with Burnt Sienna. Photograph of bachelorette party by Jennifer Smoose

“I think if [girls] see a wedding ring without knowing us, they might think, ‘Oh, these guys are older—as soon as this is over, they’re hopping in a minivan, going home, and changing diapers.’ That’s not true. I’ll probably be playing beer pong at 5 in the morning.”

Girls frequently hit on the guys in the band. As lead singer, Jefe gets the worst of it. Most approaches are subtle—an invitation to a late-night party or a phone number on a piece of paper—but there’s a lot of groping, too. “I have a line,” Jefe says. “If somebody grabs my junk, they’re going to hear about it.”

Does he get sick of being in a cover band? No way. This is his dream job. But it won’t last forever.

“There’s gonna come a time when we’re too old to be playing the newest song on the radio to 21-year-old girls,” he says. When that time comes, he’ll focus on weddings and corporate events, which pay more. “I don’t think it’s going to happen anytime soon,” he says.

The crowd goes nuts at the start of a 2006 hit inspired by a Paris Hilton sex tape. “Hey! You’re a crazy bitch,” Jefe sings, “but you f--- so good I’m on top of it.” Everyone sings along.

Kristen Evick, a patrol officer with the Dewey Beach Police since April, is parked outside the Rusty Rudder, preparing for “bar rush” when the bars close at 1 am.

There’s some griping about what’s seen as increased police enforcement. “They’ve really clamped down on this place—it sucks,” complains a fiftysomething taxi driver who misses the days when Dewey was all about “sex, drugs, and rock ’n’ roll.”

But Evick and her colleagues—eight year-round officers plus dozens of student police as young as 18 brought in to help control the summer crowds—rarely intervene in the nightly parade of inebriation.

“See, she’s drunk.” Evick points to a woman stumbling as she tries to put on her shoes. “It’s absolutely hilarious.”

Another woman who’s clearly intoxicated runs up to the passenger window for help getting to the beach. She wants to cut through tall grass on the side of the road, but Evick explains she can’t go that way. Besides, the beach is closed at night.

The most common arrests in Dewey are for underage drinking and for urinating in public, Evick says. The police are also strict on open alcohol containers and drunken jaywalking across Route 1.

Dewey sometimes seems overrun with brides-to-be. Stories abound of women indulging in one last fling, but most just want to have fun. Photograph of rickshaws by Jennifer Molay

“For the most part, the people down here are decent,” Evick says. Treat them well and they’ll return the favor. The town council wants tourists to have a good time and come back, she adds.

“The police are told to enforce the law but do it with some common sense,” says Dewey commissioner Dale Cooke. “Don’t go crazy, and don’t let them go crazy.”

Those who say Dewey is rowdy now have no idea what it was like in the ’80s, says town manager Gordon Elliott. When he was a patrolman then, kids threw firecrackers at him from a roof. “They were rolling around the brim of the big Smokey Bear hat I used to wear,” he says.

“You’d be picking up people in the morning just laying in the street from where they were intoxicated,” he says. “That doesn’t happen much anymore.”

Noise regulations—the police have handheld noise meters so they can write tickets—make parties of more than 15 or 20 people virtually impossible, Elliott says. “It used to be 200 or 300 people staying in the yard of a house.”

At 1:15, Evick gets a call and speeds off. She arrives at a house where music is blasting. A guy living in the street got into a fight with three others. His face is bloody, and it looks like his nose is broken. When an ambulance arrives, he refuses to go to the hospital, seemingly too drunk to know how badly he’s hurt.

After much cajoling, Evick persuades him to get treatment, saying that if he doesn’t go, she’ll lock him up.

When others at the party move in to take pictures with the police car and the ambulance, one of the officers loses his patience: “Just go in the house before you go to jail.”

After the bars close, Easy E stops for late-night pizza and heads back to the house, a rough-around-the-edges four-bedroom with 12 beds and a beer-pong table. He still hasn’t figured out who tonight’s lucky lady will be, and the clock is ticking.

Earlier in the evening, his housemates were playing beer pong, a game involving a Ping-Pong ball and chugging, when a guest wandered onto an upstairs balcony.

“There’s a human body out here!” she yelled.

Lines form around 10 am at the Starboard for Suicide Sunday brunch with make-your-own Bloody Marys. Don’t have to work Monday? The Sunday party lasts all day. Photograph by Jennifer Smoose

A guy was lying passed out, his face pressed against the sliding glass door. No one recognized him. They eventually got him up and realized he was a friend of a friend.

Now a girl is passed out, mouth agape, on a couch beneath a bright lamp and in front of a speaker blasting music.

“Dooooowheeeeeee! Dooooowheeeeeee!” shouts Kate, a 25-year-old teacher from Arlington. Another housemate is pouring shots of Southern Comfort and lime, dancing around the living room as he hands them out. Others are trying to get another game of beer pong going.

By 10 the next morning, the gang is back at the Starboard, nursing hangovers with Eggs Delmarva and make-your-own Bloody Marys.

They laugh when women who look to be in their late fifties arrive in tight white T-shirts with sayings like crzy btch or gr8 fuk on the back. One, whose shirt says nauty bch chck, is wearing high heels but no pants.

Kristen has had more than enough Dewey for one weekend; she needs to get out of here before the Champagne starts flowing again. She leaves money for breakfast and heads off without saying goodbye.

The rest of the housemates rehash last night. Two friends brought girls home only to find they were lesbians. Others can’t remember parts of the night.

Easy E’s luck finally turned around when a leggy blonde wandered into the house around 2. They started making out on the kitchen counter and moved on from there. He’s got photos to prove it.

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This article appears in the August 2008 issue of Washingtonian. To see more articles in this issue, click here.