Fifty-two years of fun, food and friendship at The Starboard
It appears that I rattled some chains a few weeks ago with my article about longtime Rehoboth fixture Chip Hearn. The stories that landed in my email box were hilarious, particularly those that referenced his tenure at The Starboard in Dewey Beach. But what a lot of people don’t know is that there was a Starboard even before Chip and his dad took it over in 1986.
In the early ‘60s, Duke Duggan’s Last Resort Bar was less than a quarter of the size of the present restaurant. Duke served spaghetti and meatballs to the patrons, and late-night wintertime sing-alongs with Dewey and Rehoboth locals were not unusual. Sadly, Duke passed away in 1997.
The evolution of The Starboard can be summed up in just a few words: “You’ve come a long way, baby!” Addition after addition was built as the popular tavern began to catch on. Chip’s Bloody Mary Bar and his growing assortment of hot sauces were a hit: “I had lines for breakfast on Sundays, and I had to decide what to do with them, so I decided to let them make their own Bloody Marys. It went from a happy breakfast to a loud and very happy breakfast!”
Chip’s fiery collection took on a life of its own as the famed Peppers was acknowledged in the Guinness Book of World Records. In 1999 he sold The Starboard to a trio of restaurant partners. One of those is Steve “Monty” Montgomery, a hands-on kind of guy who seems to be everywhere at the same time. As the self-described “12-year-old kid who worked on the beach,” he sold hot dogs on the sand and rented out umbrellas.
As a teenager, Monty learned every station and position at the restaurant. He pays tribute to his old boss by saying that Hearn’s marketing skills made the bar what it is today. “We all wanted to make Chip proud,” Monty smiles, “he really helped change the image of Dewey Beach.”
There’s a lot of restaurant know-how behind The Starboard. The three guys also operate Bethany Blues, the Bottom Line in Washington, D.C., the Front Page in Arlington, Va., and the Portside Tavern in Baltimore.
Partner Jim Weisgerber spends much of his time at Bethany Blues crankin’ out smoky barbecue. Monty warned me that some guy named Dick Heidenberger might try to convince me that he’s also a partner, but he is apparently the chief dishwasher. I asked Monty if I was going to get into trouble for printing that, and he laughed and assured me that I would. (Next week, this might be a blank page with my picture at the top.) Seems that Monty inherited a lot of Chip’s sense of humor.
The good-natured camaraderie extends to the entire staff - especially the bartenders. On busy weekends, lines of customers extend along the highway waiting to be served by their favorite mixologists. Monty says, “I love watching people have fun. People go everywhere else to see bands, but they come to The Starboard to see the bartenders.” On hot days, he often hands out bottled water and little sandwiches to people waiting in line. When they finally get inside, they make a beeline for Tracy, Amy, or perhaps Rex, Matty, Meagan, Travers or Lincoln. Each has his or her regular crowd.
The teasing never ends. When Chip owned the place, he made young Monty scrub the floors and all the kitchen equipment. Chip’s two college-age kids now work there, and Monty never misses a chance to snap photos of them busily scrubbing away. He then emails the pictures to Hearn. What goes around comes around.
Monty (always there), Jim (the BBQ maven) and Dick (washing dishes when he’s not kiteboarding) all have genuine respect for the talent that has made The Starboard what it is today. In fact, it’s No. 1 in liquor sales for the state of Delaware.
A 1997 newspaper observed the passing of founder Duke Duggan by showing him at the pearly gates, suitcases in hand. One angelic gatekeeper says the other, “…I have a feeling this joint’s about to start jumpin’!” For over half a century, The Starboard has never stopped jumpin’, thanks to loyal customers and good business sense.