Three kids are playing stickball on the beach as a couple enjoys cocktails at a picnic table a few feet away, the strums of the band warming up with an acoustic tune in the background. Welcome to Tanner Park Beach Hut in Copiague, where every summer evening is like a scene from "Beach Blanket Bingo."
"It's the type of place where you can come down with your girlfriend or take your husband and kids," says co-owner Jacqueline Emmino, 31, of Smithtown. "Some people just get ice cream and walk on the boardwalk. Others have dinner or drinks and listen to the band."
Tanner Park, overlooking Great South Bay, is one of seven Beach Huts along the South Shore. Each has a similar concept, with varying touches.
Bartender Tommy Schwaber is a busy guy as he mixes drinks with what seems like four hands, and people are buying them by the tray.
"Three words: Fred's Rum Punch," he says. "It's our signature summer drink that everybody wants." It's a combination of mango, pineapple and orange juices with sloe gin and a splash of sour mix, then garnished with a wedge of fresh pineapple. One sip tastes like vacation.
Jennifer Kneisel, 41, of Amity Harbor and her friend catch up over drinks while they wait for their friends to arrive.
"This is where we all meet up," says Kneisel, "because everything is good here."
Between sips of her bay breeze (Malibu rum mixed with cranberry and pineapple juices), she dances to the sounds of tonight's band, Oogee Wawa, which is making its Beach Hut debut. Blending reggae, soul and hip-hop, Oogee Wawa ("Cheers!" in Zulu) oozes a friendly island vibe that has everybody up and moving.
"The secret is to let them dance," says guitarist J.P. Aceto. "If they can dance to it, they don't care what style it is."
ACTIVITIES ALL AROUND
Picnic tables surround the Beach Hut's patio, two steps from the sand. Parents dine as they watch their kids play on the beach or at the spray park next door. Looking out on the bay, there's a fishing pier to the left and a walking pier to the right. On Wednesday and Friday nights, the Town of Babylon hosts free concerts at the band shell in the field next door. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, there's a classic car show in the parking lot.
Andrew Skladanek, 48, of Copiague makes a habit of biking down to the Beach Hut with his wife at least three times a week in the summer.
"They have everything going on here from salsa to rhythm and blues to rock," he says. "The food is great, too. I tell everybody to try the linguine with clam sauce."
Wait ... linguine and clam sauce? Yes, the Beach Hut has a bit of an Italian flair because of Emmino's background. Among beach fare like corn dogs and burgers are local favorites: homemade baked clams ($9) and rigatoni a la vodka ($13.50).
"We had nothing like this when I was a kid," says Cynthia Morgan, 54, of Amity Harbor. "We used to be stuck with hockey puck hamburgers and pizza rolls."
As the day winds down, dessert is on the brain. People line up for '50s throwbacks like malts ($5), egg creams ($3) and banana splits ($6).
"It's a fun night out with the kids when I get off of work," Alicia Kroog, 41, of Copiague says while treating her daughters, Daniella, 8, and Mariska, 7, to cones. "We are here all the time."
Erik Sattler, 15, of Copiague is sporting a mile-wide smile because school is out and his summer has begun.
"I love it here. I hang out with my friends, crab off the pier and play Frisbee," he says between bites of fish tacos. "It's a fun place to get a snack and just chill."
First in a summer series looking at gathering spots for Long Islanders as the sun goes down.
Nights at Tanner Park Beach Hut
WHEN | WHERE Dinner and live music, 5:30-9:30 p.m. daily at Tanner Park, 400 Baylawn Ave., Copiague
INFO 631-842-2580, thebeachhuts.com
PARKING No charge for nonresidents after 5 p.m.