A History of Cape May – Congress Hall and the Rusty Nail

For almost two centuries, Congress Hall has offered hospitality to locals and visitors alike. It began its life in 1816 as a simple boarding house for summer visitors to one of America’s earliest seaside resorts. Its owner, Thomas H. Hughes, called his new boarding house “The Big House”. The local people had other ideas, though. Convinced the building was far too large to ever be a success they nicknamed it “Tommy’s Folly”.

Guests did not feel the same way, and summer after summer the new hotel was packed to bursting. In 1828 Hughes had been elected to Congress and in honor of his new status his hotel was renamed Congress Hall.

As Congress Hall’s reputation grew, so did Cape May’s. By the middle of the 19th Century Cape May had become a booming holiday destination. But in 1878 the building was destroyed when a huge fire swept through 38 acres of Cape May’s seafront. Within a year, the owners rebuilt the hotel, this time in brick rather than wood, and business blossomed once again. Congress Hall fell into disrepair and remained closed for more than a dozen years in the early 1900s, but the hotel finally reopened in the early 20s, with a stunning renovation. Congress Hall went on to open Cape May’s first post-Prohibition cocktail bar (where the Brown Room sits now) in 1934.

The present owners purchased the building in 1995 with the goal of undertaking a complete renovation to return Congress Hall to its former glory.

Today, the nightclub at Congress Hall, The Boiler Room, is a truly unique Cape May experience. Located in the basement level of the hotel, this nightclub was built right into the foundation of the building. The original boiler pit for Congress Hall sits right next to the stage. The faceplate of the original boiler resides on the back wall of the club.

Bare brick walls, metal bar fittings and ten TV monitors with an up-close-and-personal view of the band all give the Boiler Room a cool vibe. The Boiler Room features some of the best in live music entertainment the area has to offer and is the place for nightlife in Cape May.

This Friday, August 31st, TWELVE:01 takes the stage at 9 p.m., specializing in rock and pop with an acoustic flair. On Saturday the 1st renowned blues musician Frank Bey heats up the Boiler Room beginning at 9 p.m. A master of the art of blues, Frank has been entertaining since the tender age of 4 and has toured throughout the United States, Spain and Canada.

Karaoke becomes a family affair at The Boiler Room’s Family Karaoke event on Sunday nights beginning at 7 p.m. The Boiler Room karaoke show heats up becoming adults-only beginning at 9:30 p.m. on Thursday nights.

On your tour back through Cape May’s history, The Rusty Nail stands as another essential stop. “The Nail”, as it’s know by the locals, is the famed iconic surfer bar and restaurant that made a name for itself in the 70s. Today, it stands on the grounds of The Beach Shack Resort of Beach Avenue. From lifeguards and surfers to the beautiful beach bunnies, they all gathered around the wood bar that was rumored to be the longest in all of Cape May. Now it’s your turn to join in on the fun-for breakfast, lunch, dinner or the famed happy hour. Indoor spaces spill into outdoor seating, sand bar, fire pit and shuffleboard. Stop by on a Reggae Sunday for live island sounds and one of the Rusty Nail’s many frozen and mixed signature cocktails, such as The Hammer (complete with souvenir coconut cup). Young and old are invited in from the beach for Cape May’s longest bar, coldest beer, tastiest seafood, and live entertainment daily.

205 Beach Ave, Cape May, NJ 08204