Greg Shockley was siting at the end of the bar, enjoying an iced tea and looking at one of the weekly papers. It was just after noon and the bar was relatively quiet. Labor Day had come and gone and, for those in the know, it was a great time to spend a weekday afternoon in an Ocean City establishment. It still is. Shenanigans will be open another month-and-a-half before they shut the doors for the season and in that time, weekends will remain someplace between brisk and busy. Weekdays are for enjoying, though, and Shockley is doing his best to do just that.
I would have expected Shockley to plan to get away for the winter, but he has none. As the Ocean City staple approaches the beginning of its third decade (it opened in April 1988), the one thing that has remained a constant for Shockley is the winter redo. If you haven’t been there in the summer, you really ought to go. Right on the Boardwalk at 4th Street, Shenanigans has one of the best summertime viewsif you’re a people watcher. It was a different view altogether when Shockley returned to his native Ocean City to run what would be come Shenanigans and the adjacent Shoreham Hotel in 1988. The new restaurant had no detailed operational plan, but that first winter they established at least one tradition from the beginning: The place would look as close to new each summer by the time it opened.
Up the Rebels!
Tweaking was required. During that first winter they redid the hotel lobby, changing it into the outdoor dining area present today. Shockley also started to try and get a handle on what kind of restaurant it would be, he already knew he would leave it as an Irish Pub. When it came to the fare, though, he was a little less certain. In fact, the first season Shenanigans served all-you-can-eat crabs in addition to a more traditional bar menu, but it wasn’t something people embraced. When they switched to focusing on overstuffed sandwiches and other, higher-end bar food is where Shenanigans hit its stride.
There’s another really significant difference between the Shenanigans of the 80s and the one we know today—it wasn’t even open for St. Patrick’s Day that first year, or even the second year. Shockley spent St. Patrick’s Day 1989 in another bar altogether.
“I remember sitting in Tio Gringos and saying to myself, ‘I own and Irish pub and I’m celebrating St. Patrick’s Day in a Mexican place?'” he said. “The next year we were open for the parade.”
That single change set in motion an attitude that turned Shenanigans from a bar indistinguishable from the rest into a destination pub that drew people from St. Patrick’s Day through the entire season. St. Patrick’s Day at Shenanigans is something of a beach people’s reunion, Shockley said: “You see a lot of people you haven’t seen all year.”
Welcome and welcome back
The reunion aspect is as much for the staff as it is for the patrons. Shenanigans employees break down (very roughly) into thirds; some have been there for nearly a decade or more, some have been only a few seasons and some are working there for the first time. The mix keeps things fresh for all involved and helps those who have been there the longest feel as if they’re invested in the pub’s future.
Margaret Sandifer has been there for nine years, splitting her time between Shenanigans and her year-round job in Salisbury. She was hanging around with Josh Perry, who’s been coming down from Philadelphia to work the summer at the beach for years, but was only finishing his first month at Shenanigans. They talked about how non-competitive it was there. There isn’t the typical sniping that comes with working in a high-volume restaurant during the height of the busy season.
Shockley said treating people right and getting them to treat each other right was a key component of the restaurant’s long term success. It must have influenced some of his colleagues who made him a member of the Ocean City Hotel Motel Restaurant Association Hall of Fame.
As the employees and colleagues make their winter plans, Shockley is getting ready to enact is own. During the season he has a mania for cleaning that he passes on to the staff. When the season ends, though, is when he can get the tougher work done. Everything gets painted and fixed and some things get replaced. He’s toying this year with the notion of fixing the bar. The goal is constantly to find a way to improve, though. So, whatever that ends up being, when you show up for St. Patrick’s Day, be prepared for more of the same, but better.
This story was updated from the original (Sept. 14, 2016) to clean grammar and flow. — Ed.