Thirty-six years ago, John Fager purchased a small piece of land on the bayside of Ocean City. His initial intention was to build a condo project. Instead, he built a bayside bar – the first of its kind in the coastal town. Friends and critics warned that it would never work because the town was called Ocean City, not Bay City. Fager continued with his plans and created Fager’s Island.

More than three decades later, Fager has proved that his bar overlooking the bay is one of the most successful establishments on the Delmarva Peninsula. From nothing more than a simple bar with a great view, the business has evolved into a restaurant that offers fine dining, live entertainment, dancing, drinks, and many other amenities.

Vast assortments of collectibles have found a place to reside within the bay front restaurant. Throughout the fine dining section of Fager’s Island, colorful paintings add a fun touch to a crisp, clean, and traditional dining area. The artwork was personally chosen by John Fager while traveling around the world. He took blank canvases on his travels, distributed them to artists, and voila – new, one-of-a-kind artwork to be admired by everyone who entered the restaurant.Most of the artwork was purchased in Haiti and created by Haitian artists. Unique Asian wall carvings are hung on open white walls. Each piece of artwork has a story: One, a 10-foot painting created by a 4’9” man depicts animals with faces that resemble Haitian political figures; another shows flat one-eyed forest animals. 

Art and beauty are everywhere. Man-made or earth-derived, conversation pieces are strategically placed throughout the property. The fine dining atmosphere is refined and open. The menu remains very traditional with an emphasis on freshness and quality. Many of the staff have been working with Fager since his earliest days in the business and know how important a truly great menu is.

The menu trends are toward Pacific Rim and American cuisine. Fresh fish, Maryland crab, and prime cuts of beef along with locally grown vegetables and fruits complete the culinary offerings found in the fine dining menu. Chefs John Laws and Tommy Cooper and sous chef Mitch Cook prepare some of the best dishes on the Eastern Shore. The Chilean Sea Bass Broiled with plum-sesame glaze, accompanied by a jumbo prawn and Thai basmati rice with vegetables (pictured to the right), has been on the Fager’s menu since day one. To this day, the sea bass is still one of the most popular options on the dinner menu.Angela Reynolds, the events coordinator for the Fager properties, recommends a nice glass of Sterling Chardonnay Reserve be paired with the Chilean Sea Bass dish. According to Reynolds, “The Fager’s Island wine selection is one of Maryland’s finest and most extensive offerings.”
Something else Fager’s is well known for? Their cocktails. Bartender Mike Chenowith can make a mean Orange Crush. He’s known for whipping up some delicious crushes at the outdoor Crush bar during the summer months.
Fager’s bartenders often mix up grapefruit, watermelon, orange, and other varieties of these cocktails. The components of a Crush include orange vodka, orange liqueur, a splash of Sprite, and fresh-squeezed OJ. The fruits and liquors are exchanged when different fruits are added. Chenowith recommends visiting the outside bar when the weather warms and trying the ‘Crush of the Day’.
A cold orange crush or a frothy beer pair nicely with any of the over-stuffed sandwiches or lite-fare options on the Fager’s dining menu. The Islander Sandwich has been on the lunch menu since the restaurant opened in 1975. The Islander is a huge sandwich made of house-roasted turkey breast, deep smoked ham, Swiss cheese, romaine lettuce, and Russian dressing on thick-sliced soft rye bread with bacon.
While eating an Islander for lunch, diners will feel right at home at the bayside bar in the new beach area, toes in the sand, while palm trees sway overhead. Sunsets add a touch of drama when the 1812 Overture’s first chords are sounded as the sun begins its descent in celebration of another sun-filled day.
John Fager and his staff anxiously wait for the upcoming season to begin – hoping to mark yet another successful season on the bay. Whether it’s fine dining, a casual atmosphere, a large lunch, fancy cocktails, or a dark beer, Fager’s proves that a bayside bar in Ocean City can work.
View the gallery below for photos of Chenowith preparing an Orange Crush, the Islander sandwich, Haitian artwork, the Chilean Sea Bass dish, and more.
To check out the menus or learn more about Fager’s Island, visit their website.
*Photos by Natalee DeHart.