MYRTLE BEACH — Bob Snyder has spent much of the last seven summers vacationing in Myrtle Beach, and the political science professor from the Georgetown, Texas, area would love to unwind at Malibu’s Surf Bar and Oz, The Experience.
Both nightclubs, under the same company called Celebrations Nitelife at Broadway at the Beach — the epicenter of Myrtle Beach entertainment — announced earlier this month they would not be reopening after the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I really enjoyed it, I thought they had good crowds, a diverse set of people,” Snyder said. “I love the music, the dancing. I thought they had a lot of spirit. Great DJs. It was a nice way to meet people … I thought they did a tremendous amount for Broadway at the Beach and Myrtle Beach in general in terms of Friday and Saturday night … I thought they were like perfect clubs for the beach.”
As much as the old Pavilion, Sun Fun Festival, shagging competitions, bikini contests and arcades weave into the fabric of many memories of Myrtle Beach, so does the nightclub scene of Xanadu’s, Yesterday’s, Club Kryptonite and Revolutions. Whether it was to people watch or to meet someone new on the dance floor, the nightclub scene was to Myrtle Beach as much as salt water taffy was to tourists — they weren’t for everyone, but the ones who enjoyed them, loved them.
With the closing of Malibu’s and Oz, the city and developers are able to pivot on the question: Are nightclubs a part of Myrtle Beach’s future?
The Good Ol’ Nights
It was the early 1990s when Calvin Blassingame would head to Myrtle Square Mall with his friends to pick out new clothes for a night on the town when Myrtle Beach was Myrtle Beach, and back when Broadway was Broadway.
“I’ve seen it change, bro. I’ve seen it change,” said Blassingame, who lived in Myrtle Beach from 1991 to 2015 and now resides in Greenville. “When you’re younger and stuff, you want to hit the club scene, and dance and pick up girls and hang out with the guys… Me personally, when they got rid of Studebaker’s, that was like, ‘aw that was one of the last of the Mohicans right there.’ You went there on a Wednesday night. I think it was like college night. You had the Studeboppers, the girls that danced. It was just fun.
“Back in the day, that’s what you did. You cruised the boulevard and you hit the clubs later on that night.”
Anyone who had been to Broadway Louie’s through the 2000s would likely have seen Jake Hallonquist, or “Broadway Jake,” owner of Broadway Jake Productions. He hosted karaoke since 2001 at Broadway Louie’s, another club owned by Celebrations Nitelife.
“When I first moved here in ’98, nobody went to Broadway for the clubs,” Hallonquist said. “Everybody had their own night. You’d go to Xanadu’s on Tuesday, you’d go to Yesterday’s on Wednesday, you’d go to Bahama Beach Club on Thursday, and on Friday, you’d go to Mother Fletcher’s. Every club had their own night and their own thing. Whether it was a bikini contest or dueling DJs, every night had their own theme and you would bounce around from those clubs. I got to tell you, that was a fun time. Those clubs just started dropping like flies when Broadway opened.”
Broadway at the Beach opened in 1995 and introduced Celebrity Square — gradually built and toted by Broadway as the “one-stop hot spot” for live music, dueling pianos, and, of course, dancing the night away.
“In the early 2000s, you got your action in that square,” Hallonquist said. “I was right in the center of it.”
Aside from Malibu’s and Revolutions, which eventually became Oz, there were clubs like Club Boca, Froggy Bottomz, Broadway Louie’s and Senor Frog’s, a restaurant and bar-turned-nightclub at night.
“You had to kill somebody to get a bartending spot at one of those places,” Hallonquist said. “You had to literally force somebody out of there. Guys were not giving up spots. There was just so much money being made.”
Through some of the earlier years, Myrtle Beach allowed bars and clubs to stay open as late as 4 a.m., which allowed many service industry workers to head to Broadway after their shifts for a few drinks. Even when the laws were changed to have bars close at 2 a.m., Hallonquist said there were many locals who would hang out at Broadway and interact with the tourists, who often came year-after-year to enjoy the nightlife scene.
“With Broadway, it was oversaturation. I don’t know what their headcount is currently, but there’s probably 50 different spots where you could get a drink. They’re just murdering each other. That’s ultimately what it is,” Hallonquist said.
Andy Lesnik is president of LHWH Advertising and PR, who represents Burroughs & Chapin, owners of Broadway at the Beach.
Lesnik said Burroughs & Chapin does not discuss tenant matters.
Inside the culture of the nightclub epicenter
After the housing market crashed in 2008, some bars and nightclubs were crawling out of the recession that many experienced. As the recovery began in 2011-12, “there were just so many places, it just changed,” Hallonquist said.
Many locals started venturing out to Murrells Inlet to catch live bands and there were more places to grab a beer at The Market Common, a then-new dining, shopping and entertainment district, complete with nearby housing.
Aside from the added competition and a universal way people began meeting each other — more online dating than in-person — the recent change at Broadway at the Beach from Celebrity Square to The Avenue in 2016 created not only a different look at Broadway, but different clientele.
“The No. 1 thing that’s changed is Burroughs and Chapin. How do they see Broadway at the Beach?” Hallonquist said. “As a business owner, I understand dollars and cents. But Burroughs and Chapin has clearly demonstrated to anybody in our area that they could care less about sentiment, what people want, what people desire in certain areas. They are building fillers. That’s the bottom line.
“All they care about is getting rent in the building and if they can get somebody to pay more rent in our space, then that’s what they’re going to do. They could care less what impact we have on the community, how many people we employed. They don’t care.”
When asked specifically about Hallonquist’s comments, Lesnik did not comment.
“What you’ve seen at Broadway at the Beach is more of these corporate names,” Hallonquist said, referring to Wahlburgers and Dave & Buster’s. “They want all of these recognizable names, and they’ve cut out the Stool Pigeons and the Shuckers and the Broadway Louie’s, these incredible individually-thought-of concepts that really spoke to so many of the people who came in from out of town and that had a real connection with the local community.”
Myrtle Beach losing two of its biggest and longest-standing nightclubs is not just a local issue.
J.C. Diaz, president of the American Nightlife Association, a group “dedicated to protecting and advocating the positive economic, social and cultural contributions of the nightlife & hospitality industry,” says that nationwide, there were about 60,000 bars and nightclubs across the U.S. at one point, and in the most recent report he saw, there were about 40,000.
“Nightclubs are the ones that are most at risk,” Diaz said. “They obviously are the first ones to close and probably the last ones to re-open. If everyone would have followed all of the suggested rules for quarantine and masks, we probably would have lost some of the iconic venues, but now we’re probably going to lose a lot of them. ”
Diaz said opening a nightclub is more than just putting together brick and mortar.
“We work so hard to create these nightlife districts. It’s a community effort… city government is involved, there’s the arts and cultural side of it, and obviously the music side of it, and we work so hard to get these nightlife districts operating and now we’re about to lose it,” he said. “I’ve been talking to people in city governments and the real estate side and talking to bankers to create a moratorium on payments… Just like we saved the bankers, they have to kind of save us now.
Myrtle Beach Mayor Brenda Bethune, who owns a Budweiser distributor Better Brands Inc. with her husband, said the city is not in talks with anyone currently to open a nightclub or rekindle a district, like the one downtown that recently housed a few nightclubs like Club There.
“We are not opposed to that at all,” Bethune said of nightclubs in Myrtle Beach. “It is a part of Myrtle Beach history. I was born and raised here, so I can name all the places I used to go to.
“It’s unfortunate that some of the clubs that have been here for a long time have had to close. That is part of the impact of this virus and what it has done to our business community. Who knows what’s to come? I’m optimistic. I like to think that if one door has closed, somebody else is going to come up with a concept and bring it to the table when the time is right. I do think there is a future for that type of entertainment in the area. ”
Snyder, Blassingame and Hallonquist all agree that there is a future for nightclubs in Myrtle Beach.
“It’s just a matter of getting the right concept,” Blassingame said.
As for location, clubs like the now-closed 2001 in North Myrtle Beach have successfully, in the past, lured tourists from Myrtle Beach. That, Hallonquist said, wouldn’t work now.
“It needs to be in the Myrtle Beach area and it needs to not be on the strip (Ocean Boulevard),” he said. “ But I think within the Broadway at the Beach area … I think whoever owns the land, you’re going to need their support. You will.
“You’re going to need somebody who’s willing to work with you who sees your addition and says, ‘Ya, we need that here and I could see how that would be fun.’”