Things I rarely do:
1. Go out to New Jersey on a weekday
2. Attend “biker nights”
3. Eat hot dogs
And yet this past Wednesday evening, I managed to drag two non-biker friends to meet me in Clifton, NJ, home of the legendary Rutt’s Hut. Our mission was to eat deep-fried hot dogs and check out Old Bike Night, an annual event that none of us had ever been to. The mission was successful on every level.
As a teen in nearby Nutley, Rutt’s was a frequent dinner stop for me and my friends after we got our driver’s licenses. For us, Rutt’s scored the trifecta of being cheap, tasty, and a short drive from our homes.
We were smartypants teenagers on limited budgets, so we enjoyed Rutt’s — and its culinary cousin White Castle — on a gastronomic level while simultaneously keeping an ironic attitude about it. Win-win for seventeen year old me, who thought he was far more clever and original than he actually was.
After I moved to NYC and outgrew kitsch-based dining, outings to Rutt’s grew extremely rare. Visits to see hometown friends usually involved meals at nicer restaurants, not because we became snobs but because we became adults with steady incomes.
But nostalgia is a powerful thing, and when I saw a flyer for Old Bike Night while getting a new front tire at Motorcycle Mall, I knew I had to go — and who I had to go with. I sent a photo to Mark, one of my oldest friends and a Rutt’s aficionado. He texted back immediately and plans were put in place.
Several weeks later, Mark and his girlfriend rolled up to Rutt’s in their Prius while I came in on my MT-03. We were very likely the least biker-looking visitors there. We were surprised to see how large the event was, with hundreds of people in attendance and motorcycles as far as the eye could see. The large parking lot was filled to capacity, as were both sides of the street and the lots of nearby businesses. It was loud.
Most of the bikes were Harleys and the crowd was dressed as you’d expect. There were a smattering of foreign bikes like mine and more than a few young children ogligng the bikes along with their parents. Despite all the noisy bikes and a lot of tough-looking bikers, the vibe felt inclusive and even family-friendly. If you didn’t have preconceptions of bikers, what you’d see was just a gathering of people who dig motorcycles and hot dogs on a beautiful early summer evening.
We got there too late to see the old bike competition, but we thoroughly — and unironically — had a great time. We’ll be back next year, for sure. And If Rutt’s starts offering some vegan options (like White Castle!) I might even come back before then. These days, my conscience and stomach can only tolerate hot dogs on an annual basis.