Posted: Saturday, October 22, 2011
By ROB SPAHR Press of Atlantic City Staff Writer
SEA ISLE CITY — When Charles Landis founded Sea Isle City in the early 1880’s, his goal was to create a city on canals, similar to Venice, Italy. Those plans never materialized, but 130 years later, hundreds of people gathered at Excursion Park to celebrate a different kind of European culture — a German-themed ‘Octoberfest.’
Oktoberfest is a two-week long beer festival held in Germany every year. But Sea Isle City’s Octoberfest is geared more toward families.
The music of the Philadelphia German Brass Band — whose members were decked out in traditional German attire — filled the air as children bounced to the beat inside inflatable castles or had their faces painted. A brightly-decorated man on stilts interacted with smiling families while another man created a herd of balloon animals.
“It is definitely a nice family day all around,” said city resident Bill Gallagher, 67, after taking a hayride on the beach with his children and grandchildren. “And it’s always great to be able to come out to support the city and the businesses here.”
This was the fourth year for the festival, and organizers said the event was by far the biggest.
“We never had vendors before. They were trying to make this different than other festivals we have in the city, but people were coming here and looking to spend money and had nothing to spend it on,” said Barbara Steele, the events planner for the Sea Isle City Chamber of Commerce and Revitalization, which hosted the event with the city. “But we brought in about a dozen local vendors, all of whom are members of the chamber, and the effect that that had is definitely noticeable. And the weather is beautiful, which also helps.”
While a majority of the vendors were selling ordinary items, some made sure to include a German flavor.
Bill McGinn spent the day grilling bratwurst under the “Bubba Dogs” tent, even though the delicacy is not typically on the popular hot-dog stand’s menu.
“The (organizers) asked us to do something with a German flavor for this event and they’re actually selling pretty well,” said McGinn, adding he expected to go through more than 150 brats and 350 dogs during the four-hour event.
And a block away from the park, more vendors were set up outside LaCosta Lounge.
LaCosta bartenders were serving seasonal Oktoberfest-themed beers from taps on a vintage fire truck while a DJ was spinning tunes from underneath a tent nearby.
“I think that Oktoberfest is so big in Europe that Americans are now catching on and are trying it out,” LaCosta bartender Jason Buck said about the recent rise in the popularity of Oktoberfest-themed beers and events.
The event’s popularity could help the city accomplish one of its own goals.
“So many people enjoy Sea Isle during the shoulder season, so the businesses here are trying to extend the shoulder season as much as possible,” LaCosta bartender Ken Merson said. “So having events like this be successful at the end of October is going to be very helpful.”