This is the latest in our series of reviews of local bars, clubs and other venues along the Grand Strand through the eyes of a music fan. Recently, we visited Bourbon Street, 5307 N. Kings Hwy., Myrtle Beach, to witness a Wednesday night perfomance by the bar's house band The Blues Bureau.
About the bar
Named after the famous New Orleans party place, the local take on Bourbon Street is not unlike the real deal. Despite the fact that the Myrtle Beach venue holds a much more refined vibe than the French Quarter free-for-all, both locales share an affinity for good food, plentiful drinks and live music.
Combining slick decor and a smoke-free atmosphere with high-energy tunes and an "anything goes" attitude, Bourbon Street sits at an interesting intersection of the Myrtle Beach bar scene, seamlessly combining classy and party.
It's this somewhat unique blend of elements that has helped the bar make its mark in since opening in March.
"It's grown exponentially," said owner Giuseppe Chillico. "We weren't really expecting this quick of a response when we opened." Chillico adds that being known in the community — having owned Symbols Jewelers in Myrtle Beach for more than 20 years — has definitely helped his bar bring in a crowd.
The interior of the bar, which was once a real estate company, is walled into halves with a smaller dining area and a modestly-sized bar area on the other. Bands perform within a walled off nook in the front of the bar, while the crowd is placed among some tall tables and a railed bar platform which spans the back wall of the establishment. A fireplace sits along one wall, providing a great place to warm up on chilly winter evenings and is decorated with mardi gras masks and beads and a large "Rue Bourbon" replica sign.
In between the dining and bar area is a smaller room with a few booths for more intimate conversation, a few televisions and a dart board. It's a good mix, which provides plenty of places to sit and an open feel regardless of where you choose.
"I think people don't want to be so private in a setting like this," said Chillico. "They want some privacy, but they also want to be part of the music and walk around and mingle."
Throughout the bar are unique artistic elements crafted, in true jeweler form, by Chillico himself. They include a large wrought-iron wine rack which holds more than 100 bottles, a detailed bar railing and some interesting glasswork on the tables.
The crowd is more upscale than your average Myrtle Beach dive, but includes a good mix of younger and older folks enjoying wine and beer in seemingly equal amounts.
When it comes to food, Bourbon Street serves up a variety of dishes each night until 2 a.m. While, Chillico admits, his menu isn't particularly large, he's proud of what he has including specialties such as Garlic Shrimp with cream sauce over angel hair pasta. We sampled a quite tasty plate of peel-and-eat shrimp and some blackened tuna with wasabi which was excellent.
Offering up live music has always been an important part of Bourbon Street's party atmosphere.
"We are trying to support the local arts," said Chillico. "There's so much amazing talent around here."
The bar has done well in this pursuit, both giving local musicians a place to perform and bringing in regional acts such as Nick Norman, Joal Rush and Crowfield.
In addition, Chillico says he has put together what he considers one of the best house bands in town, The Blues Bureau, who performs each Wednesday and Friday night.
"When we first started I always wanted to have music, but it was hard to do it with a small crowd," he said.
So instead of going the full band route, Chillico brought in Josh Sanders — the boyfriend of one of his daughter's friends — to play guitar.
"Once he started singing and I told him 'Dude, you need to find a singer,'" said Chillico.
That's when Sanders brought in bassist Joe Meckley to the mix. After the members came together to perform as a backing band for local hip-hop artists AJ Case at the House of Blues, the group decided to pursue playing together as a blues project and settled in as Bourbon Street mainstays. The Blues Bureau in its current form includes Sanders and Meckley, Corey Holden on drums, Rob Flack playing keys and saxaphone and lead singer Ronnie Coco.
The evening we attended, singer Coco was out of town and thus had been replaced for the evening by a pair of Coastal Carolina music students, Shakia Davis and Alyssa Frison. According to bassist Meckley, the two fill-in members had done an amazing job, learning 18 songs in a single rehearsal before sitting in for the evening.
From a fan's perspective, the female vocals sound really good and added a great soulful twist to a long list of covers such as "Lady Marmalade," "Carwash" and "Standing Out In The Rain."
Though the show started out much more dance-friendly, it eventually ranged into more bluesy territory as the night went on and the bar began to fill with more and more folks.
The band also added an interactive element to the evening, by doling out prizes to members of the crowd who could answer trivia question about Motown band and other musical knowledge. This, like many of the other elements that make up the Bourbon Street experience, simply helped add to the party atmosphere that makes for an enjoyable place to check out some live music and enjoy and evening with friends.