NORTH MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. — The marquee reads “West Virginia Rest Stop,” but the location is South Carolina.
At the ClubHouse, the curtains are West Virginia University and Marshall themed, the shutters are blue and gold, and the walls feature West Virginia college sports posters, as well as photos of U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin and Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin. WVU and Marshall games play on the big screens every time one of the teams plays.
“You can’t get in the place on Saturdays if they’re playing,” said Don Causby, a local regular.
The bar is known for attracting West Virginia tourists, as well as a steady stream of locals who have gotten to know the longtime employees and appreciate the prices. A can of Pabst Blue Ribbon is $1.26, after taxes.
Wayne Whitmore, a retired physical education teacher originally from Charles Town, recently moved to Myrtle Beach from Naples, Florida. He passes the time perusing through the sign-in book, looking for familiar names from back home.
“When you first come into town, when you run into people, they say, ‘Have you been to the West Virginia bar?’” he said.
The ClubHouse is located along a busy stretch of highway, at 77 U.S. 17. According to employees, Dunbar native Mike Swanson opened the business in 1992. The West Virginia theme was the plan from the beginning.
Swanson died in 2003 of bone cancer, according to friends and employees. His ashes are stored in an urn on a shelf by the bar, below his photo and above a plaque in his memory.
David Scott, a regular for decades, remembers Swanson well.
“He was a great guy. He was in here a lot,” Scott said. “He kept a close eye on his business. He was real attentive and he done real well with it.”
Scott points to a framed photo in the bar of a Vietnam veteran and Tomblin on the Capitol steps.
“That’s me with him,” he said. “It was September of 2012. We had a Vietnam reunion up there. He kept coming out there and wanting to have his picture taken with me.”
Sarah Maple has worked as a bartender there for 16 years. Swanson was a close friend of hers.
“He was very funny,” she said. “He was not afraid of anything — not afraid to say anything.”
Previously, Maple worked at two paint shops. She didn’t have any bartending experience when she started.
“Because the bartender walked out the door, and because we were good friends, I said, ‘if you need help let me know,’ ” she said.
She found out she enjoyed the work.
“I wouldn’t be here this long if I didn’t,” she said.
She has gotten to know many repeat customers over the years. The West Virginians always announce themselves right away.
“They come in and they say, ‘We’re from West Virginia’ when I first walk up to the table,” she said. “They want to know if they get a discount and I say, ‘No, we charge double.’”
Daniel Becker, the bar’s manager, estimated that about 20 percent of customers are from West Virginia during the summer months.
“They definitely love their football,” he said. “They were telling me this during basketball season. They said they couldn’t wait for that.”
The bar’s menu used to feature delicacies like the “West Virginia filet” (a grilled cheese sandwich) and the “West Virginia tube steak” (a hot dog), but employees said a new owner recently changed that.
Becker said there is talk about revising the menu again. He has heard several suggestions from West Virginians.
“No matter what we have on the menu there’s always something else we could do,” he said.
He vaguely remembered one suggestion in particular.
“It was kind of like, I wanna say like a cheese log they say something about,” he said, “because we have a fried mozzarella block and somebody had mentioned to me about rolling a hot dog — I mean, not a hot dog, like mozzarella cheese and meat and deep frying it. That was something big up there. This was during the tournament. This was late March. I can’t really think of it off the top of my head.”
Maybe someone said something about pepperoni rolls?
“That was it!” Becker exclaimed. “It was pepperoni rolls.”
Reach Erin Beck at email@example.com, 304-348-5163 or follow @erinbeckwv on Twitter.