I've known Jerry Blavat for mere minutes, and already he is professing his love. In fact, he's shouting, "I love ya, Sam!" over the sound system, to me and a room packed full of shoobies and locals.
This VIP treatment/public humiliation is, I realize, the apogee of the Memories in Margate experience. Pretty much everyone here appears to be feeling the love, whether joyously shimmying on the dance floor or huddled around one of four horseshoe bars, grooving in place on their barstools.
The club, now in its 46th summer season, exists more or less as a platform for Blavat, who at age 78 still spins highly danceable oldies every Friday and Saturday night into the early morning — a show that's best experienced in person, but also is broadcast at the Shore on Kool 98.3 FM. From his dais overlooking the dance floor, the Geator with the Heater chugs Wawa coffee and sorts though vinyl records — the Temptations, the O'Jays, Chubby Checker — then lets an assistant hunch over a computer and worry about the finer details of mixing. That frees Blavat to work the crowd, punctuating the music with enthusiastic chatter, birthday wishes, anniversaries, scatting and shout-outs, and to welcome surprise guests such as Frankie Avalon, who popped in late-night after a show at the Golden Nugget last Saturday to sling an arm around Blavat's shoulder for an impromptu duet of Venus.
This is professional-grade schmoozing.
"You're much prettier in person than your voice," Blavat tells me, serving up a compliment-insult combo meal. I'd spoken with him by phone in advance of my visit, about the history of this club with its spectacular bay views and its colorful, if checkered, history since he bought it in 1972 and gave it a name that he hoped would spark instant nostalgia.
There were, in fact, good old days, Blavat insists. "My mother would cook for Frank Sinatra, for Sammy Davis whenever they were in town. Davy Jones of the Monkees, Frankie Valli, Frankie Avalon. All these people, when they were in town, they would come to Memories."
So, according to news reports, would such mobsters as Nicodemo Scarfo; New Jersey investigators once claimed Blavat paid Scarfo's organization $500 a week for protection.
On my visit, the crowd tends more toward current and future South Jersey moms. Not since my bat mitzvah have I seen this many people my parents' age dressed up and ready to dance. But it's an all-ages group, from a very elaborate 21st birthday party to a corner where a spirited woman who looks to be in her 80s is grooving as best she can without getting up out of her chair. I don't spot any celebrities, except for in the endless black-and-white photos of Blavat: onstage with the Supremes, amid grooving teens on Bandstand, decoupaged by the dozen onto a canoe dangling from the ceiling (the decor here is, vaguely, upscale beach house meets trophy room).
Though Blavat tells me he plays music of yesterday and today — "from Donna Summer to Pitbull" — I definitively do not hear anything on the speakers recorded in my lifetime. I can see the appeal: It makes you feel young, or youngish. Before we go, I asked Blavat what the song of the summer is. He assures me that it's "Heat Wave" — yes, the one by Martha & the Vandellas, from 1963. So it's not exactly on the cutting edge. I'd still dance to it.
Memories in Margate
9518 Amherst Ave., Margate City, N.J.; 609-823-2196
When to go: You can catch the Geator on Friday or Saturday nights, when the party really gets going at about 10 p.m. (and there's a $10 cover charge). It's only open Thursdays, 9 p.m.-2 a.m., Fridays, 4 p.m.-2 a.m., and Saturdays 7 p.m.-4 a.m., Memorial Day through Labor Day.
What to order: Most people opt for Yuengling and vodka cocktails, though Blavat, exclusively a wine drinker, vouches for the house Beaujolais.
Bring: Your mom. Your grandmom. Anyone who thinks today's music "just sounds like noise."
Bathroom situation: The multi-stall bathroom is clean and decorated with pictures of Bette Davis and Joan Crawford — suggesting perhaps, à la Baby Jane, that it's OK to age in any manner you see fit.