Because Surge’s band of merry freelance writers, which make up The Bullpen (a nod to Stan Lee and Co.), have tackled a gamut of assignments from conducting exclusive jailhouse interviews to tracking the nesting and hatching of loggerhead sea turtles on our coast, to going undercover at local haunted houses, to spending 24 hours at the Myrtle Beach bus depot and investigating local swingers clubs and conventions, to reviewing some of the coolest rock shows in town, sampling the finest restaurants, hitting the hippest happy hours, witnessing the rowdiest bike rallies, compiling a guide to the area’s strip clubs, chronichling the rise of Coastal Carolina University’s athletics, and keeping you abreast of local breast cancer awareness events, there’s a tendency to think they’re omniscient when it comes to Myrtle Beach-area living.
But, there’s always room to grow what you know.
They haven’t done it all, but they’ve probably done more than the average beach bum.
And the advantage we have over a traditional newsroom is our stable of freelancers all have occupations other than writing for Surge that bring them into contact with diverse experiences and people – and that translates to stories and articles that you don’t see by other local media. I don’t know how many traditional newsrooms can boast professional musicians, EMTs, real estate agents, Chamber of Commerce employees, TV hosts, fulltime college students, Catholic diocese scribes, cigar store sales staff, and Web site owners in their ranks.
But that’s what we got – and more – ready to mow ‘em down in our Bullpen.
So, for the first cover story of 2014, we put our heads together and challenged The Bullpen to come up with its best game plan for navigating, and enjoying, the sometimes hidden and less obvious aspects of living in this vast coastal sandbox we call the Grand Strand - 14 of their best nuggets of knowledge for helping you become more of a local connoisseur in ‘14.
The original plan was for The Bullpen to shoulder the load of all 14 of these tips, but we’ve had a couple of folks drop from the roster and not respond to queries seeking help (represented by uber-agent Scott Boras, perhaps?) - but no one is headed for the dreaded Tommy John surgery, or anything that dire. So we’ll have to call on the grizzled, high-salaried veteran right-hander hailing from East Point, Ga. (me) to close things out. The fastball ain’t what it used to be, so it’s all about location, location, location.
So, without further ado, from scoring shark teeth and advice for blending in at ocean-front hotel pool bars to grabbing locals discounts around town to lowdowns on music, arts and culture along the beach, here is your 14-point scouting report for striking out winter boredom in 2014 and becoming a local in-the-know, a crafty gamer that can paint the corners with guile and finesse.
WHAT TO LOOK OUT FOR: Hotel Bars
WHERE: Along the Grand Strand, especially Ocean Boulevard in Myrtle Beach.
Believe it or not, quite a few of the Grand Strand resorts actually welcome locals to belly-up to their on-site watering holes, be it an indoor hotel bar, a poolside Tiki bar or a fine dining restaurant. What’s even more surprising is some of the locales have comparable prices to your cheap hole-in-the-wall bars. Granted, at some of the oceanfront hotels you may shell out a buck more for a beer, but you are paying for the view, the beach access, and perhaps the amenities. After all, most of these hotels have at least one pool, and also hot tubs, which feel especially nice after a hard day at work. Now, we’re not saying all these hotels actually condone us using their amenities... But we will say this - the people who are on vacation here can’t appreciate the luxury of a hot bubbly bath after a long stressful day in the grind. So we are actually just giving these hot tubs an even greater purpose in their existence. Plus, if you are spending money and tipping well, we don’t foresee anyone chasing you off of the property. In fact, they welcome us during the off-season. Do keep in mind that the pools usually close around 10 p.m. -.you don’t want to overstay your welcome.
Mandy Rodgers, for Weekly Surge
WHAT TO LOOK OUT FOR: Shark Teeth
WHERE: Myrtle Beach State Park
WHEN: Low tide
Childhood dreams echo across the beach at Myrtle Beach State Park, where the seascape is filled with dunes, sea oats, tide pools and gently nodding flowers vivid with the colors of sunsets. You can camp there in cabins, tents or RVs; walk a mile-long nature trail describing trees in the maritime forest; learn about the ecosystem at the nature center; or fish and crab off the pier.
But my favorite day at the beach is to go at low tide, turn right at the pier and drive to the southernmost end of the parking lot. Myrtle Beach State Park is one of the best places in the Grand Strand to find sharks’ teeth, and this is its hotspot.
Where: Myrtle Beach State Park
When: For non-campers, the park is open daily from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.
How much: Free admission if you have a state park pass; if you don’t, it’s $5 for ages 16-64, $3.25 ages 65 and older, or $4 ages 6-16
For more information: 238-5325 or www.southcarolinaparks.com/myrtlebeach
Becky Billingsley, for Weekly Surge
WHAT TO LOOK OUT FOR: Seafood on the Waccamaw
WHERE: Downtown Conway
Although the Grand Strand is known for scrumptious seafood, you have to take a short trip inland to downtown Conway to taste some of the best catches the area has to offer. Seated along the Waccamaw River, a couple of prime restaurants take in the fresh local fare for their flavorful dishes.
Ocean Fish Market is a small, cabin-like structure with outdoor picnic tables shaded by overhanging oak trees. Inside, you can choose from the iced fish splayed out in rows on the worktop or you can order from the counter a variety of fried or grilled seafood. My favorite dish is the crab cake sandwich with hush puppies and French fries. If you don’t mind eating exoskeleton, then the soft shell crab sandwich is a fresh crunchy lunch.
If you want something more upscale, head around the corner to the Rivertown Bistro. A hidden gem in sleepy downtown Conway, this restaurant is a delightful surprise of fine hospitality and distinctive Southern cuisine. Ask for a seat upstairs and enjoy the view of the kitchen from above—the floor is cut away to showcase the chefs at work below. Order the Lowcountry Spring Rolls as your appetizer and ask for extra honey Dijon because you won’t want to share it. Out of the many entrees, sushi rolls, and desserts to taste, you won’t be disappointed. Call ahead to make a reservation because although the tourist season is over, the locals know this place has good eats.
For more information: Ocean Fish Market 248-4334; Rivertown Bistro 248-3733.
Angela Pilson, for Weekly Surge
WHAT TO LOOK OUT FOR: Craft Spirits and Cocktails
WHERE: Fire & Smoke Gastropub
This year, 2014, will be the year of the craft cocktail on the Grand Strand. Using hand-crafted, small batch spirits and fresh and local ingredients along with signature methods to make outstanding cocktails is what we are all about. There is one spot on the radar for the serious imbibers and that place is Fire & Smoke Gastropub (411 79th Avenue, Myrtle Beach). Owner Jimmy Horkan is a long-time Myrtle Beach resident and is starting in the kitchen with his cocktail creations. Using a smoker to smoke cocktails is just the beginning. He is a flavor fanatic and will, seemingly, go to great lengths to get the flavor he wants.
Horkan is also featuring the smaller producers of quality spirits in his bar. Two stand-out brands thus far are William Wolf Pecan Bourbon Whiskey and South Bay Small Batch Rum. William Wolf is made with all natural pecans and maple syrup and puts to shame the synthetic honey and maple of the big label spirits. South Bay Rum is aged, hand-crafted rum from the Dominican Republic that is nothing shy of a head turner.
Adding a tap beer program that shows the promise of rivaling the best on the Grand Strand (one word: Ommegang!), Fire & Smoke could set the bar by which we measure, well, bars in 2014. The gastropub is set to open this month and deserves a look if you are serious about cocktails and food.
Kevin Hoover, for Weekly Surge
WHAT TO LOOK OUT FOR: Mountain Biking
WHERE: Horry County Bike and Run Park AKA The Hulk
WHEN: 7 Days a Week – Dawn to Dusk
Wait. Did we just say mountain biking in Myrtle Beach? Isn’t this the land of clunky beach cruisers and casual riders? And where the heck are the mountains?
Nestled in a parcel of land surrounded by S.C. 31, Grissom Parkway and the Intracoastal Waterway – The Hulk was unveiled in the summer of 2012 in partnership with Horry County Parks and Recreation, the Waccamaw Trail Blazers and the Myrtle Beach Triathlon Club, and has quickly become a haven for mountain biking enthusiasts of all stripes – locals and visitors alike. The Hulk boasts ample laps of uphills, downhills, turns, berms and drops - and although it is very close to the beach, it might as well be in another state or at least way, way inland.
If you decide to try to tame The Hulk, keep in mind the that policy is to wait 24 hours after a rainfall. Ride bikes clockwise along the trail because runners go counterclockwise.
Learn more about The Hulk by visiting the Waccamaw Trail Blazers Web site: www.waccamawtrailblazers.com
Roger Yale, for Weekly Surge
WHAT TO LOOK OUT FOR: Locals Discounts
WHERE: At attractions, movie theaters, restaurants, theater shows, nightlife venues and shops throughout the Grand Strand
Living among the surplus of restaurants, attractions, theater shows, nightlife options and shopping centers as a local can be inviting, while also a little pricey. When family and friends come to town, going out to dinner and a show can quickly add up and be a strain on your wallet, but luckily, some establishments in the area offer discounts or free upgrades to locals with valid photo identification. Discounts ranging from reduced admission to a dollar amount or percentage discount on food sales or goods are available at businesses throughout the Grand Strand; however, most often they are not advertised, and many of them are for a limited time, especially during the off-season. And while some businesses do offer them, they may only do so depending on the time of year and for residents of Horry or Georgetown counties.
Our advice? Travel with a valid form of photo identification, such as your driver’s license or ID card, and don’t be afraid to ask if a locals discount or an upgrade is applicable when purchasing.
One local venue that makes it easy is Broadway at the Beach. On the shopping and entertainment hub’s Web site, there’s a list of stores, restaurants, and attractions within the complex that offer discounts for residents. Visit www.broadwayatthebeach.com/locals.aspx for a complete list of discounts to take advantage of, including 15 percent discount on food and non-alcoholic beverage purchases at Hard Rock Café and half-price admission to Ripley’s Aquarium with a valid resident ID.
Rebecca Robertson, for Weekly Surge
WHAT TO LOOK OUT FOR: Finding Culture at the Beach
WHERE: Along the Grand Strand, Georgetown to Little River
If locals (especially those who’ve relocated from bigger burgs) have one complaint about living here, it’s heard in their ceaseless droning lament: “There’s no culture. I miss the city.”
WHAT WE’VE FOUND: While a night at the opera, and we don’t mean the Carolina kind, might be a stretch outside of local movie theaters that pipe in big city arias and divas, the Grand Strand offers more urbane-type cultural events, fascinating history, and destination-worthy sites than perhaps believed at first blush. Symphonic concerts, internationally touring musical artists of every ilk, college courses for auditing, meet-n-greet book signings from famous authors, community theater, arts festivals, two large antebellum historic districts, a world renown landscape sculpture garden, along with a number of museums; they’re here, and ready for partaking.
Finding culture need not break the bank, either; some of the suggested outings are free, and others only charge modestly. For residents and visitors alike, the Grand Strand offers an overflowing cornucopia of culture just waiting to be discovered. Here are just a few of the many cultural gems based along the Grand Strand, along with their Web sites offering detailed information and schedules.
• Historic Georgetown; www.historicgeorgetownsc.com
• Historic Conway; www.conwaydowntownalive.com
• Historic Little River Waterfront; www.littleriversc.com
• The Long Bay Symphony; www.longbaysymphony.com
• Main street Theater; www.theatreoftherepublic.com
• Atlantic Stage, www.atlanticstage.com
• Coastal Carolina University; www.coastal.edu
• Osher Lifelong Learning Institute; www.coastal.edu/olli
• The (Burroughs-Chapin) Art Museum; www.myrtlebeachartmuseum.org
• The Horry County Museum; www.horrycountymuseum.org
• South Carolina Maritime Museum; www.scmaritimemuseum.org
• Brookgreen Gardens; www.brookgreen.org
-Paul Grimshaw, for Weekly Surge
WHAT TO LOOK OUT FOR: Actual Human Beings Renting Movies
WHERE: Movie Shack, 4959 Socastee Boulevard, Myrtle Beach
WHEN: Noon to 9 p.m. Monday-Sunday
We know it’s a like an archeological relic or a cave drawing, some kind of myth from the past – living, breathing people renting you movies. Movie Shack may’ve been missed with Blockbuster taking a deep dive into the red and fading into the ether of Internet service. Fear not, you don’t have to get your DVDs and Blu-rays from a cold box outside a drugstore or grocery store or order from an impersonal queue on an Internet site. Yes, streaming to your computer is awesome. But let’s face it – a lot of that streaming media is either a few weeks behind release dates or it sucks. Wouldn’t it be nice to get movies the day they are released from the studios and to talk to someone about movies before you pay to see them or buy them? Movie Shack is an old-school movie rental store.
Filled with movies (old and new) and all things movie for sale – there’s movie-related collectables and toys. You can buy new releases, movie classics and Blu-ray players on the cheap. Movie rentals are $1.49 for new releases and $.49 for older films. Everything for rent is also for sale, including new release Blu-rays for as low as 10 bucks. Or you can get a bundle deal of used DVDs for 4 for $10 or used Blu-rays for 3 for $15. And all this can be done with face-to-face interaction.
Derrick Bracey, for Weekly Surge
WHAT TO LOOK OUT FOR: That Other Body of Water
WHERE: Intracoastal Waterway
Long and gorgeous beaches are what Myrtle Beach is known for, but the Intracoastal Waterway is lined with unspoiled beauty that few tourists get to see. If you rent a boat or personal watercraft, or take the boat ride departing from Brookgreen Gardens, you’ll experience uncluttered wild views that have remained almost unchanged for hundreds of years. You’ll also see wildlife including osprey, bald eagles, herons and alligators.
How much: Watercraft rentals vary; Brookgreen’s pontoon boat creek excursion is $4-$7 extra after paying the admission fee.
For more information: The number at Brookgreen Gardens is 235-6000 or visit www.brookgreen.org.
Becky Billingsley, for Weekly Surge
WHAT TO LOOK OUT FOR: South by Southeast (SXSE) Music Feasts
WHERE: Historic Myrtle Beach Train Depot (851 Broadway St., Myrtle Beach)
WHEN: Periodically; winter, spring, and fall (Wild Ponies scheduled for Jan. 25)
Formed in 2003 by the late Jeff Roberts (Sounds Familiar Record Store), Bob O’Connor (The Mullets), and a handful of likeminded fans of the Americana music genre, SXSE is still hosting potluck dinners and intimate evenings of live music more than a decade after its humble beginning in a local living room.
WHAT WE’VE FOUND: Nashville has the Bluebird Café; a small concert venue and listening room where talking is prohibited during performances. Myrtle Beach has Fresh Brewed Coffee House, and the more adult oriented Myrtle Beach Train Depot, where beer and wine are available during SXSE Music Feasts. While the food and booze may be enticing, the real draw is the music. Most Music Feast shows are $20 in advance, $25 at the door. Members save $5
A fully licensed non-profit organization, SXSE holds occasional fundraisers and musical instrument drives for local music education programs, and has awarded college scholarships. At its heart, SXSE is made up of a large group of friends (members and guests) who love music, and gather to share home-cooked potluck dinners and concerts by singer/songwriter troubadours, but these are not just any troubadours. In its 10-plus years SXSE has hosted more than 75 concerts, many from those who are the writers behind the hits of country, pop and rock music during the past 30-plus years; Verlon Thompson, Randall Bramblett, Mike Farris. While their names may not be instantly recognizable, these artists’ songs and talent are appreciated around the globe. Up and coming acts are also featured, including the mountain music ensemble, The Barefoot Movement. In a desert of musical Pablum, SXSE Music Feasts are a treat for the ears, and an oasis of art and fellowship, all set within an historic Myrtle Beach landmark. Oh yeah, and locally-brewed New South Beer is included with your ticket.
Paul Grimshaw, for Weekly Surge
WHAT TO LOOK OUT FOR: You CAN Touch This...
WHERE: Waccatee Zoo
If you’re an animal lover (or love “Madagascar”), then check out Waccatee Zoo, the “’Beast” kept secret in Myrtle. Yes, it may remind you of someone’s backyard, but it does house exotic wildlife. Tigers, lions, capybaras, and primates can all be found in this odd reserve. Peacocks roam freely in the parking lot and walking paths, and prairie animals graze in a large open area near the road. It’s not a concrete jungle like other zoos, but it is a wildlife sanctuary, especially for migratory birds. The best part about this zoo is a well-kept secret: lemurs. Not only can you see them, it’s possible to touch them.
There’s a troop of lemurs residing in the antiques barn. If you purchase popcorn or hay at the entrance, make sure you save some for them. Take a couple pieces and hold them to the fence. The lemurs will leap onto the fence, reach through, brush your hand as they take the morsels, and happily munch. Just make sure you use sanitizer on your hands before and after —you don’t want to get them sick from any oils, lotions, or other product on your skin.
Waccatee Zoo is at 8500 Enterprise Road near Socastee. Admission is $9 for ages 13 and older. Call 650-8500 or visit www.waccateezoo.com.
Angela Pilson, for Weekly Surge
WHAT TO LOOK OUT FOR: Fabulousness in non-gay places
WHERE: Collector’s Cafe and Gallery
WHEN: 11:30 a.m. to midnight, Monday through Saturday
I found one of those awesome Myrtle Beach secrets early in December. Collector’s Café, located at 7740 North Kings Highway is fabulous in a way that moves it to the top of the must-do list for the gay community. Combining a coffee house, art gallery and fine dining experience, this place has an expansive menu that satisfies even the fussiest among - us or according to my friends, me.
A dozen or so friends and I showed up late one Friday night after dinner and extended cocktail hour. We were seated almost immediately. The service was impeccable and the décor was chic to the point that we couldn’t find fault with it. A big kudos to the staff who allowed a large group of well-imbibed gay men to order their martinis from the Friday Night Ladies Menu. Whatever your event, this place can cater to your every need.
Drew Levy-Neal, for Weekly Surge
WHAT TO LOOK OUT FOR: Smoke ‘em If You Got ‘em
WHERE | The Sportsman Bar and Grill
There is something ironically refreshing about a bar that eschews today’s public health trend of smoke-free establishments. That’s why The Sportsman Bar and Grill, located on the south end of Durty Myrtle, across from the Myrtle Beach Harley-Davidson dealership, is a locals’ favorite – even for non-smokers who still love freedom, eagles, and the Second Amendment. The newest watering hole from owners Steve Wiggam and Lillian Wiggam – former owners of Myrtle Beach icons Barefoot Billiards and Smokehouse Billiards – features pool tables, darts, karaoke, live music, and a damn fine pub menu sure to fill the bellies of all comers (we recommend the barbecue). Best of all, you don’t have to excuse yourself to take a smoke break after a hard day at work, or on the golf course. Located at 4735 S. Kings Highway, Myrtle Beach, the close proximity to Long Bay Estates, as well as Ocean Lakes, Lakewood and Pirate Land campgrounds make it a hidden jewel for tourists, as well as locals.
Andrew Davis, for Weekly Surge
WHAT TO LOOK OUT FOR: Propane and Propane Accessories
WHERE: Socastee Hardware
And speaking of smoking, we thought Costco had poked a hole in Grand Strand propane prices when the warehouse club built a propane station in the parking lot and offered tank refills for less than $10. What a bargain, we thought - we’re not going to be one of those suckers paying $20 or more at convenience stores, grocery stores and dollar stores to trade in a propane cylinder just so we can fulfill our God-given American right to grill steaks, brats and chicken over an instant open flame.
That was until we found out about the insane-in-the-membrane propane fill’r-ups at down-home Socastee Hardware at 4860 Dick Pond Road. Hank Hill doesn’t work here, but it wouldn’t be a stretch to imagine that he could.
We’ve paid as little as $6 to fill up the standard-sized, 20-pound tank during the prime grilling season of summer at Socastee Hardware and as much as $8 right before Thanksgiving when the crush of would-be turkey fryers descended upon the joint seeking to get gassed up before the holiday.
Now, we realize that this location is more convenient to folks who live and/or work on central-to-the-south-ends of town - and we haven’t searched for cheaper propane prices, say, closer to Littler River, but it’s still a worthy tip for your grilling, cooking, RV’ing and heating aspirations for 2014.
She don’t lie, she don’t lie, she don’t lie...propane.
Kent Kimes, Editor