Walk & Roll

October 2010
Written By: 
Paul Grimshaw
Photographs by: 
Bobby Altman

What could be better than food, friends, and fine fall weather? All of those, plus a moonlit stroll

There’s a goat staring at me, just twenty yards away, across the small channel that separates the Murrells Inlet Marsh Walk from Goat Island and a half-dozen islands just like it. A gentle sea breeze cools me, the goat, and an egret or two, as I eat a late lunch on the open-air deck of the Dead Dog Saloon, a popular restaurant and nightspot. It seems that along the Marsh Walk, a three-quarter mile waterfront boardwalk and restaurant district, the smiles (on the animals and the people) are broader and, I think, more genuine.

It’s easy to lose sense of time staring east over the marshes, creeks, small islands, and open water toward the Garden City spit, about three-quarters of a mile as the crow flies. This is the good life. It’s why so many of us make coastal South Carolina our home, and why the Marsh Walk, located on Old Highway 17, along the waterfront and restaurant district of Murrells Inlet, has become a major destination for international and domestic travelers. Vacationers and loyal locals have decided life is just a bit better here on the south end of the Grand Strand.

Two charter boats follow each other out toward the sea. The Crazy Sister Marina, at the south end of the Marsh Walk, is home to Spud’s Waterfront Dining, a few massive yachts, and a couple dozen boats of varying sizes. The smaller crafts, like the ones I’m watching, tie up in front of the Dead Dog Saloon, presumably to grab a bite and a beer. When the tide is in they can make their way up and down the shallow channel all the way to Bovine’s at the northernmost end of the Marsh Walk.

In between Spud’s on one end and Bovine’s on the other, five additional restaurants all have their own unique spin on waterfront hospitality, and include casual fine dining found at Bovine’s, the Divine Fish House, Capt. Dave’s Dockside, and Drunken Jack’s. Wahoo’s Raw Bar & Marina is a satellite open-air Tiki bar, music venue, and restaurant affiliated with the Divine Fish House. Creek Ratz offers casual fare, and a large patio with lawn seating and music appealing to a wide variety of tastes—especially beach-music fans. When The Band of Oz, The Embers, or The Fantastic Shakers play, the shaggers (those who know the Carolina dance from the 1940s) and their ilk come from many miles, and stay late into the night.

My perch on this particular afternoon is the Dead Dog Saloon. Owner Charlie Campbell, along with most of his family, can be found at the restaurant off and on throughout the day. Campbell was instrumental in helping the additional Marsh Walk businesses see the wisdom in joining forces (and funds) to market the location as a destination. “The Marsh Walk was here before we opened the Dead Dog,” says Campbell, “and since its first phase was completed [in the late 1990s] business has grown exponentially, especially in the last eight years. The Marsh Walk has really rejuvenated the entire community.”

Besides the Dead Dog’s creative and varied menu, the restaurant is known for its tongue-in-cheek atmosphere, rich wood interiors, large outdoor deck, covered open-air bar deck and stage, spectacular Inlet views, plenty of big-screen TVs, and ample live music. With a permanent stage, the restaurant turns into a concert/dance hall at night, and hosts everything from comedic solo acoustic acts, to rock ’n’ roll dance bands, indie and alternative acts, to the occasional national artists in between big-city gigs. In fact, most of the restaurants that make up the “official” Marsh Walk District (there are a half-dozen additional restaurants and bars in the neighborhood) offer live music every weekend, and even more April through October.

The Marsh Walk comes alive at night with gentle sea breezes, magical moonrises, and the soft glow of the distant lights from beachfront homes in Garden City. Nighttime fishermen come and go in their small creek boats, and around 8 p.m. the first downbeats from the many musical entertainers set the pace, which often lasts ’til the wee morning hours.

With my late lunch long since finished, the goats have wandered to the far side of the island, and the egrets have slipped off to find shrimp and a mullet or two. Billowing white clouds with pink and gold edges are just showing the first blush of the coming sunset, and they punctuate an azure sky.

The band is setting up, and the Dead Dog Saloon is getting busier. “You should come back in mid-November for the second annual Herding of the Goats,” offers Campbell, with a laugh. “We had a hurricane threat last year, and a crew went out to round them up for their safety. It became a spectacle. It drew hundreds of people and was really comical, so now it’s an annual event.”

I see some friends traveling toward me, cocktails in hand, wandering in from some unknown point of origin—the Marsh Walk is perfect for bar-hopping. And I’ve concluded that there are few places any better to eat, drink, and be merry.