Honky Tonk Man

April 2022
Written By: 
Harold Rohrback
Photographs by: 
Victor Shamah

Local Native Victor Shamah keeps a national treasure alive and well on the Grand Strand

If you Google “top honky tonks in the country,” you expect to find a list of Texas establishments such as Billy Bob’s and the Broken Spoke. Thanks to owner and operator Victor Shamah, what you will find at the top of most lists will be The Bowery, located in downtown Myrtle Beach, just off the boardwalk and across the street from the old pavilion site.

Victor grew up on 9th Avenue back when the city all but shut down in the winter months between Labor Day and Memorial Day.

He recalls being a regular customer at Sloppy Joes, a restaurant on the corner of 9th Avenue North and Ocean Boulevard, where Ripley’s Believe It or Not now operates. The restaurant also offered Bingo; when he won the grand prize, he had his choice of one of the puppies sitting in cages on the sidewalk. His father operated a coffee shop on the boulevard, and Victor inherited his entrepreneurial spirit.

Starting at a young age, he collected bottles thrown away on the beach and sold them back, which eventually grew to successfully wholesaling merchandise and printing T-shirts to local businesses. But marketing was his true love and strength.

The Bowery was one of his early clients and Shamah fell in love with the honky-tonk bar and grill located 50 feet from the ocean. He was a regular; after all, what could be better than a casual, country music hangout next to the beach? The house band was a group called Alabama and Shamah would travel with them, hawking T-shirts when they played gigs outside of the Grand Strand.

Thanks to Shamah’s marketing skills, the profit on the merchandise sometimes exceeded the band’s appearance fee. That would quickly change, of course, when the band hit it big and went on to stardom.

One day in 1980, the opportunity presented itself to purchase The Bowery. By this time, Victor owned and operated a successful beachwear store on the boulevard, but he jumped at the chance. Even though he was living a good life, he quickly sold his new Mercedes to use for the down payment and went back to driving a 10-year-old Opel GT.

Besides, what merchandising guru could resist purchasing a bar whose employees included Count Desmond, the Guinness Book record-holding sword swallower or Bouncing Betty, the 300-pound go-go dancer. And let’s not forget “Don’t Cry Joe,” the singing bartender for over 50 years. One of the bartenders, Price “Scuba” Osborne, set the Guinness Book world record number for carrying mugs of beer without spilling at 34.

It didn’t take long for Shamah to jump into merchandiser mode. He got a copyright for The Bowery as “The 8th Wonder of the World.” If you ask him why, he responds, “because all of the others were taken.” He also got a copywrite on a slogan for the bar that has become a way of life which simply states, “Ya’ Can’t Beat Fun.”

If you wanted a bottle of water with The Bowery label on it – no problem. How about official Bowery hot sauce, wing sauce, Bloody Mary mix, grits and cigars? For a small price you can even purchase a Bowery toilet seat.

The fact that Alabama was the house band and Shamah was a marketing master made a recipe for success. It soon became nationally recognized and a destination attraction for honky-tonk lovers and country music fans across the country. But, even with all the national attention, he has never forgotten the locals who are The Bowery’s heart and soul.

The Bowery patrons loved it when, during Bike Week, Shamah would ride his Harley through the front door, around the bar and out the back door. Of course, those days are long behind him.

He is still a daily fixture, along with his son, Michael, and brother Stuart who help him run the businesses. The tenured house band is The Bounty Hunters and they haven’t missed a beat in upholding and surpassing the expectations that customers have come to rely on when they walk through the doors. At any given time, you might see a celebrity or two sitting at the bar or just stopping in to check out the place. In the past, stars such as Richard Petty, Big and Rich, Luke Combs, Jimmy Johnson and others have visited for a beverage, burger or just a good time. Shamah still serves one of the best cheeseburgers on the beach and the atmosphere remains pure southern country fun. Remember, “Ya’ Can’t Beat Fun.”

Shamah was an early proponent for revitalizing Myrtle Beach in the late 1990s when he was part of a new Downtown Redevelopment Association, later taken over by the City of Myrtle Beach. He remains a dedicated native to Myrtle Beach, who is committed to the betterment of the community.

Shamah now has 10 business ventures along the Grand Strand, with active ties to the South Carolina Restaurant Association, Myrtle Beach Chamber of Commerce and Oceanfront Merchants Association.

He say he doesn’t like how congested Ocean Boulevard has become and, when asked what he would like to see as a remedy, he says, “I’d love to see the boardwalk extended from The Sea Captain’s House to Springmaid Pier.”

At first glance it seems a longshot, but when you look at the current revitalization efforts and Shamah’s determination, it doesn’t seem out of reach.