Beach Party

Delaware's Dewey has long wrestled with its rowdy reputation, which is about to be immortalized on film

July 27, 2006|By JOHN WOESTENDIEK | JOHN WOESTENDIEK,SUN REPORTER

DEWEY BEACH, Del. -- Unfortunately for this town, what happens in Dewey isn't staying in Dewey.

Every summer weekend, this mile-long beach town draws tens of thousands of visitors -- most of them single, most of them from Washington, most of them tightly wound young professionals in need of a good unwinding.

For generations, Dewey Beach served that purpose well, so well that its other attributes (sandy beaches, scenic bay, quaint shops and friendly, small-town feel) became almost parenthetical amid its growing renown as a place to party.

FOR THE RECORD - The name of the writer of an article about Dewey Beach in yesterday's Today section was inadvertently omitted. The writer was Sun reporter John Woestendiek.
The Sun regrets the errors.

Despite the efforts of some elected town officials to promote Dewey's less raucous side, despite, even, some success in drawing more family-oriented vacationers, the image of Dewey as a party town -- a perception fed by its packed nightclubs and overflowing, sometimes rowdy, group houses -- kept growing.

In 2001, Dewey was featured in a USA Today article that described it as "spring break for adults." In 2003, it was featured on Wild On, an E Entertainment Television program that features attractive people in revealing clothes partying wildly in, usually, exotic locales.

Since then, the Delaware town's image as the place to "cut loose," "kick back" or "hook up" has been further cemented by travel brochures, singles publications, rental agencies and, perhaps most vividly, in the accounts of revelry that appear on some group house Web sites.

"Some of them make it sound like what's going on is one big orgy," complained one town commissioner.

So when a Washington-area filmmaker appeared before the commissioners earlier this year, describing plans to film and nationally distribute a documentary about the Dewey Beach group house experience, the reception was lukewarm at best, maybe even a little chilly.

"We're not just a drunk town," said Dell Tush, a town commissioner who, while some other officials and business owners have warmed up to the movie-makers, still fears the worst -- yet another portrayal of Dewey debauchery.

Dewey Beach, she fears, has been typecast.

Family-friendly

"We've very much become a family-oriented town, but nobody shows that side," Tush said. Even the travel industry has bought in on it. "It's always Rehoboth, with its boardwalk and shops; and Bethany, the jewel of the coast; then Dewey, a town for people who want to party and carouse half the night."

To which some Dewey group house regulars might respond -- those, anyway, who are not among the majority of respectful and responsible ones -- "What does she mean half the night?"

The movie's producer, Greg Godbout, co-owner of the Arlington Cinema and Drafthouse in northern Virginia, says the movie won't focus entirely on Dewey Beach as a place to party, and won't be the raunchy romp some officials and residents originally feared.

"We're not Girls Gone Wild. We met with the town and put those fears to rest," Godbout said. He hopes to show the movie at film festivals across the country this winter.

Tom Prather, a producer/director for The Blue Wave, a Washington-based film and TV production company that is making the documentary, says it will have a theatrical flavor, not unlike the MTV reality series Laguna Beach.

It will follow four Washington-area professionals who are spending their summer weekends at three different beach houses, filming them at work and play, said Godbout, a Dewey Beach regular who met his wife while staying at a group house here.

So too, he notes, did John G. Roberts Jr., chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. (Although according to an article in the trade publication Legal Times, "Roberts tended to avoid the wilder side of the beach nightlife ... [he] instead preferred to curl up on a beach chair with an Elmore Leonard paperback, hit a Saturday-night movie and make it to church the next day." )

"There are all these Washington-area professionals who go to Dewey Beach on the weekend, and it's one of the top singles beaches in the country," he said.

"We want to document the bonding that occurs and the uniqueness that is Dewey Beach. We're not out to portray Dewey in a bad light, or ruin anybody's reputation, just make a fun movie about a fun town."

Dewey Beach became an incorporated municipality 25 years ago. But, in a way, it's the beach town that didn't grow up.

And on summer weekends it fills up with people, however straight-laced and responsible they might appear during the workweek, of whom the same might be said.

There's a certain charm in that -- unless, of course, you're the one who is awakened at 3 a.m. by a group of revelers singing an off-key rendition of "Margaritaville," as they stumble back to their beach house, pausing to urinate on your petunias.

That sort of thing, though, is part and parcel of being a beach town, the price one pays for living and working there, usually in a job dependent on summer visitors.

Rules, rules

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