This is the latest in our series of reviews of local bars, clubs and other venues along the Grand Strand. This time we stopped by The Tavern in the Forest in Carolina Forest on a Wednesday night for one of the qualifiers to their weekly karaoke contest.
Having moved to Carolina Forest more than a year ago, I often say that the community — built on old International Paper land — feels like its own planet.
The area from U.S. 501 to River Oaks Drive along Carolina Forest Boulevard, consists of shopping centers, bars and restaurants on each end and lots of residential developments in between. It's the type of place that if you also work there, you can go weeks without needing to leave.
It's this community closeness and the welcoming attitudes of the regulars within that make places such as The Tavern in the Forest a great example of what a locals bar should be.
Upon visiting "The Tavern" (as it's more commonly known) it's hard not to notice how at home the patrons seem. Whether they're chatting over dinner, laughing with the bar staff or engaging in a debate over the sports, they all seem to be enjoying themselves in the bar's cozy setting which features a double-sided bar dividing the place into two long strips.
The indoor portion features a couch and large flat screen, a couple of arcade/slot games and booths lined along the wall for dining. The outdoor portion has a mix of high-top and traditional tables, a bevy of TVs and shuttered windows that help give an open-air feel when the weather's right.
The open entryway holds a table, a couple of corhole boards (that often sit outside along the sidewalk) and wooden DJ stand. This particular night — much like every Wednesday — the stand was occupied by house DJ Ian Guerin who was hosting the bar's weekly karaoke contest.
The singers which graced the "stage" with their voices were an eclectic and enthusiatic bunch.
Ivy Curry, an improv actress, said she likes coming to sing to hear the other contestants and because she enjoys the way The Tavern bar staff and the DJ treat her. Curry, who wasn't competing in the contest having already won a previous week's qualifier, says a big part of what makes a good karaoke singer is being fearless and just having fun.
"I'm not really ashamed to get up and make an ass of myself, which is important," she said. "I see alot of people get up there all intense and serious about their singing and I just think there's no point in it if you're not having fun."
Curry, who is legally blind, said the only tough part for her is having to sing with her back to the crowd in order to read song lyrics from the projection screen behind the DJ.
"I don't do it when I sing in the contest," she said. "Then I usually choose songs I know."
Another of the night's interesting characters was contest winner "Little" George Pravada.
Pravada, a New Jersey native who grew up singing for $2 a night "40 or 50 years ago," walked away with $25 in house cash and a chance to compete for a share of $1,300 prizes that will be given away at the December finals.
"I might do 100 songs and every time I just go out and sing what people want to hear," he said. "I don't mind if folks don't like it. If they don't like it, I won't sing it."
In addition to the interesting, yet brief contest, the rest of the evening featured a mix of karaoke tracks that ranged from Evanescence to George Strait and from Frank Sinatra to Sugarhill Gang. As time went by, it became increasingly evident that you just never know what you might hear when you give folks free reign to belt out a book full of past hits.
The performers came in varoius sizes and shapes, various levels of talent and sobriety, but all seemed to enjoy their brief moments in the spotlight thoroughly, and in the end isn't that what karaoke is all about?
If you live in the Carolina Forest area, you should surely consider The Tavern as a go-to meeting spot for a few drinks with friends. The staff is very attentive — bartender Chris "Smalls" Roberts is known for his ability to remember names and drink preferences — the prices are solid and the food is better than most bar fare.
If you are into karaoke and don't need the full-on spectacle of a place like Broadway Louie's in Broadway at the Beach, the bar offers as good a venue for it as anywhere in town. The sound system is nice, they draw a dedicated crowd of singers and with shows Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday there's plenty of chances to sing.
Also a closing sidenote: We were very glad to hear that the bar is trying to add some live entertainment to its schedule, with plans to feature local folk/rock singer Joan Burton on Thursday nights in the near future.
Listen to Joan Burton's "Flames"