Fisherman’s Crab Deck opened the summer of 1991.
I started tending bar at Fisherman’s Crab Deck the summer of 1991.
Eight years prior, I was a short-timer thinking about what I might do after the Navy. As an enterprising young underachiever, I enrolled in a mail-order bartending course.
Yes, it was a waste of money, and no, I did not mix drinks and mail them in for grades.
I went to work at Kentmoor, a landmark restaurant and marina on the Chesapeake Bay. Armed with my USPS bartending education, I knew Chambord from Chablis, but not much else. An experienced bartender took pity and took me under her wing, and taught me all but her best bartending tricks and secrets. First lesson: smile, make the best drink you can; expect a tip.
Restaurant employees are often gypsy-types. Sometimes they’re actual Gypsies. I was pretty loyal. I stayed places a long time. Sometimes a couple places at the same time.
I worked at Kentmoor for a for three or four years, and I worked at the Kent Island American Legion, where I met my wonderful wife-to-be, for about the same amount of time. An exception to my long-term employment was a place called O.O. Forbes. O.O. Forbes functioned as an unsupervised mental asylum, was eventually robbed by one of the two final owners, and closed in about six months.
Man, was that fun.
When a derelict old Kent Island farmhouse was restored and turned into the elegant Kent Manor Inn, I was among the first batch of the Inn’s restaurant employees. We were a tight crew, just like pirates, and had so much fun for a few years it’s a wonder the place was ever so successful.
Or maybe our success was due to the employees having so much fun. It’s a fine line between not-enough and too-much of anything in the food-and-drink biz. Restaurant servers are generally social animals. Those who aren’t become chefs. Cantankerous is on a chef’s job description.
The Schulz family, who own Fisherman’s Inn, a Kent Narrows mainstay since 1930, has always been loyal and supportive to me and mine. As a young man, patriarch Sonny grew up and worked the water alongside my dad. The three sons, Andy, Jody, and Tracy and I are friends, and the two older boys and I have been part of numerous adventures and misadventures over the years. Back when Chesapeake College offered their first bartending course, Miss Betty helped make sure I got the instructor’s gig.
For many Fisherman’s Inn Christmas parties in a row, I was their go-to bartender.
In her Fisherman’s Inn Cookbook, Miss Betty wrote about buying the property next door to Fisherman’s in 1972, which had operated as an oyster shucking house since the thirties, and expanding the business into more diverse products such as on-site soft crab sloughing. She wrote: “Years later with the Inn running smoothly, and the boys wanting something else to do, the packing house was remodeled. The front was kept as Fisherman’s Seafood Market, and the back part became Fisherman’s Crab Deck. It opened July 26, 1991.”
In 1991, I went from wearing bow-ties and mixing Rob Roys at Kent Manor to sporting Crab Deck Hawaiian shirts and blending strawberry Pina Coladas.
Those early years at the Crab Deck were staffed with hardworking and hilarious people of every type and personality. There was always something happening. The annual opening weekend and Halloween parties. Fourth of July. The boat races. The Kent Narrows Olympics. Bartenders getting UGLY to raise money against Multiple Sclerosis. Celebrities in the house. Customers driving into the duck pond. Naked wedding party invisible-volleyball at 3 am. Explaining to a drunk why an establishment with rolls of paper towels for napkins might not have a chilled brandy snifter on hand.
I was working at the Crab Deck the Friday night of OJ’s slo-mo Bronco chase. The band quit playing so everybody could hear the TV.
Manager Mary Lee Brown, there since before the beginning, has dealt with every imaginable situation (Fire! Flood! Alcoholic Night Watchmen!), and is the captain that keeps the Crab Deck ship on course. She’s a primary reason this seasonal business retains staff year after year.
By 1996, I was married and had a daughter and was working full-time as a real estate appraiser. The bartending money was still great, but it got harder and harder to stay out all night on the weekend and be effective in real life. Most of the old gang had split or were ready to. When the real estate market boomed, and I could appraise 80 hours a week if I wanted to, I bailed. I haven’t tended bar in 20 years now.
I still love Fisherman’s Crab Deck though. Two of my three books were launched there, and I always feel the love when we visit.
Going to the Crab Deck is like going home.
In the next few weeks, as the sun sets on the Crab Deck’s 25th year, stop in and say hello. The crabs are always hot, the beer is always cold, and the Eastern Shore hospitality is second nature.
Please remember to tip well.
Fisherman’s Crab Deck is part of The Fisherman’s Inn Complex at Kent Narrows South in Grasonville, Maryland.