This is the latest in ListenUp’s ongoing series of “On The Scene” reviews, which give a music fan’s perspective on local restaurants, bars and venues. On February 15, we stopped through Berni's 501 for a couple drinks and to check out local DJ collective ALLAREONE.
Having never visited the original Berni's Cafe in downtown Conway, I wasn't sure what exactly to expect from the reinvented version, located right off of U.S. 501 in the Food Lion plaza right next to Coastal Carolina University and Horry Georgetown Technical College.
But maybe the lack of past perspective was a good thing as what I found was a place that by all accounts is nothing like the original.
From the bright orange walls and sleek furniture to the well-sculpted bar and ample outdoor patio, everything in Berni's 501 exudes a modern feel that seems designed to distance itself from the vintage decor of the original spot and appeal to the decidedly young crowd which occupied the bar that evening.
Completing a kitschy decor that keeps that place from feeling too high-class are an array of interesting artwork including a Statue of Liberty mural on a wall near the kitchen, a lifesized John Wayne cutout in one corner and the essential "Olives Playing Pool" painting by faboulously over-the-top painter Michael Godard hung near the bar.
We stopped in about 10 p.m. on a Wednesday night, a time generally reserved for drinkers and music fans, and found a crowd that was probably 60-70 percent college students.
"Alot of our staff works at Coastal, probably 95 percent of them," said general manager Eric Hall. "The college crowd has been good for us."
But despite the inlux of bargoers under 25, the place never felt particularly rowdy and came across more as a cross between a dimly-lit lounge and a bright, traditional college bar.
One sure sign of the college crowd was the steady string of shots being poured in front of us as my partner, Grant Gatsby and I sat at the bar drinking a couple Magic Hat Black IPAs, the most adventurous beer choice of Bernis half dozen draft beers.
The pursuit of liquor even went as far as being put into an interesting game form, and we watched as a one young woman took turns tossing a hollowed out bar coaster, trying to ring it around one of the bottles behind the bar to earn a free shot. She got five chances and at the end of those chances — assuming she hadn't earned a free shot — she had to buy both herself and the bartender a shot of her choice.
We watched as one or two other patrons tried their hand to no avail and eventually my partner stepped up to the challenge, ring one of his five shots around a bottle of Coconut rum much to the delight of onlookers.
Despite all the changes at Berni's 501, one thing that remains the same from its original incarnation is the food.
Ported over from home-cooked Souther recipes originally created by Palmer's mother Bernice — the Berni for which the restaurant is named — the food remains a highlight.
"The old place was very small, kinda a one-man operation. He's got a full kitchen now and a full-time chef," said Hall.
Spinach Cakes remain a specialty and probably Berni's most well-known food item.
"Nate's a big guy, he played football for University of Michigan, and the story goes that his mom could never get him to eat his vegetables until she started making these spinach cakes. He says he ate them for a year before he ever knew they were good for him," said Hall.
Other options include appetizers such as Wings, Quesadillas, Crab and Wu-Tang Shrimp, a fried shrimp with sweet chili sauce. Bernis also offers soups, salads and daily specials on entrees, of which BBQ chicken and Angus Pot Roast serve as some of the most popular dishes.
For a more in-depth review of Bernis food check out Myrtle Beach Restaurant News.
Having been at the new location a little more than four months — opened in October 2011 — this restaurant/bar/venue seems to be just hitting its stride when it comes to carving out a regular schedule of entertainment.
Beginning in February the bar has started doing Team Trivia on Tuesday nights and hosting DJ Nights on Wednesdays with ALLAREONE, a collective of local DJs led by Terry "TFunk" Flores.
On our trip, Flores and his roomate Chris Garcia were both steadily plugging away behind their laptops and sound controllers. Joined by Exlusive Musik drummer Brian "Spaghetti" McKenna, who provided live drums on an electronic drum pad, ALLAREONE created a blend of loungy, electronic sounds they like to call "Future Fusion Beats."
Check out a full interview with ALLAREONE here.
Each week Bernis will do Happy Hour Thursdays from 5-10 p.m., and extension of the happy hour the bar offers seven days a week, with dinner and drink specials and live music. So far acts have included local musicians such as Alex Austin, Nick Alfi, Jimmy Mowery and Roadside Assistance.
"Thursdays are Happy Hour music, it could be a solo artist, a duo, a guy on piano ... We get the guy from Crocodile Rocks, which has been great — very interactive," said Hall.
While calling it a full-blown venue may be a misnomer, Berni's has really made a push to become a spot for live music on the weekends bringing in acts such as Treehouse, Lustre, Bullfrog, Below The Bassline and 3 Weeks Notice.
"Friday and Saturday we save that for the live bands and we basically we try to draw to all genres," he said. "Of course we get a lot of band doing their covers, but when it comes down to later in the night on their third set or whatever we're more than happy to have them do their own original material if they have it," he said.
As former House of Blues employees who met through their time at HOB, both Hall and his owner, Nate Palmer, appear to be dedicated to providing a place for live music at Berni's 501.
"He wants to be a restaurant first and foremost," says Hall. "But obviously we're both crazy about live music so we want to integrate that in every way possible."