As a man proud of his Irish heritage, and as a principal organizer of the first Atlantic City St. Patrick's Day parade in 1986, it was easy for Joe Crilley to decline an invite to join about 200 revelers at the Cove restaurant in the wee hours of March 10.
Crilley popped in the Cove shortly before the Atlantic City St. Patrick's Day Parade began at 1 p.m. and made the rounds of other caravan gathering spots in Brigantine to say hello, but he wanted to be in fine form for his appearance as the 2018 parade grand marshal.
“I wanted to walk proudly down the Boardwalk, and I walked the whole way,” Crilley said.
The mile-plus parade started near Garden Pier on the Boardwalk and ended at Albany Avenue. Crilley led the way with his 10-year-old grandson, Aedyn Pawlyk, who was dressed as a leprechaun, complete with long red beard and green top hat.
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Crilley's daughter Melissa, her husband, Craig Pawlyk, and Aedyn flew up from Charleston, South Carolina, to be part of Joe's special day. And he bore no hard feelings toward Aedyn for stealing some of his thunder.
“He was the star up there,” Crilley said. “As we're walking, a couple people shouted out, 'Hey, can we get a picture?' I said sure, and they said, 'Not with you, with him!'”
A couple of weeks prior to the parade, Crilley flew south to see his grandson perform in a band.
“He's a very accomplished drummer. You'd be surprised,” Crilley beamed. “He was playing in a band with other kids 17 and 18 years old, and he's holding down the drums at 10.”
Crilley knows a thing or two about music himself. As a business partner with the man who's last name first adorned Brigantine's famed Circle Tavern, which disappeared from the island's landscape about 15 years ago, Crilley and Al McMahon routinely brought big-name musicians to town. Clarence Clemons, Edgar Winter, Foghat, Molly Hatchet, Blue Oyster Cult and others all played at the Circle Tavern over the years.
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McMahon and Crilley joined forces with other Irish tavern owners to establish the Atlantic City St. Patrick's Day Parade in 1986. McMahon died about three years after it started, and was subsequently honored with grand-marshal parade status posthumously. Another longtime Brigantine resident, Harry McGarrigel III — who co-founded the Brigantine Elks Lodge nearly 50 years ago and was a member of the Atlantic City Beach Patrol for more than 40 years — was named grand marshal in 2007. McGarrigel turns 90 on April 2 and still attends the parade each year.
McMahon's Circle Tavern became Crilley's Circle Tavern after McMahon died. The island's live-music hotspot has since been superceded by Laguna Grill & Rum Bar, which during the summer hosts acts such as the Wailers, Third World, Fuel, Soul Asylum and G. Love & Special Sauce.
Laguna Grill — which picked up two awards Feb. 22 at the Atlantic City Weekly Nightlife Awards, including best concert venue — is co-owned by one of the Circle Tavern's former bartenders, Rip Reynolds. Crilley sometimes helps out his former Circle Tavern employee by bartending at Laguna in the summer.
So in a sense, things have come full circle.
“I don't know if that's the best circle you'd want to take, but that's how it played out,” Crilley said.