Best of Charleston 2007 » Drinking

Bet Isle of Palms Bar

The Windjammer

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The Windjammer

Isle of Palms. 1008 Ocean Blvd. 886-8596

Almost 18 years after Hugo destroyed its original structure, the Windjammer is still a terrific destination for tourists, longtime islanders, students, and music fans.

"We've been open since 1972, so we're really working on two or three generations now," says manager and co-owner Bobby Ross. "Malcolm Burgis opened it with his brother, James. Malcolm is not the kind of bar owner to draw out a place and bleed it or anything. He always puts back into it."

Ross came to work at the club in 1980 and became a manager in 1982, when it was basically a big, sand-filled sports bar with old pinball machines and pool tables to the side.

"When I first came here, there were only two live entertainment places," Ross says. "One was The Old Side and the other one was the Surf Deck. Back in those days, the Windjammer was more or less just your drop-in bar. Those went by the wayside and started picking up live bands and entertainment. We didn't even have a stage yet."

The venue's rise to prominence as a local music club came gradually, with mostly local rock, blues, and country bands playing on weekends. By the late '80s, however, Ross was able to attract big-name touring acts and some of the more popular local bands.

"The Windjammer had The Blanks from Athens down as the first bands to do well here," remembers Ross. "The Swimming Pool Qs were one of the first signed bands to play here. The Killer Whales played here during their heydays."

For 20 years, the Windjammer has also hosted an annual, summer-long bikini contest, picking up where the club's notorious, early-'80s "wet T-Shirt contests" left off.

Hugo hit the Charleston area on Sept. 21, 1989. Half of the Isle of Palms was totally devastated, including most of the old Pavilion area on the Ocean Boulevard strip. The old Windjammer was ripped apart. The newly-built version reopened on June 21, 1990.

After the big storm, the Isle of Palms spun through a series of wild surges of major-money development action -- due largely to the construction of the IOP Connector. Lazy little neighborhoods of one-story cottages suddenly turned into tightly-packed blocks of McMansions. The Pavilion area was refurbished with fancy sea cabins, hotels, margarita bars, surf shops, and pricey seafood restaurants. Somehow, the Windjammer retained its personality as a carefree, blue-collar beach tavern and a cool live music venue.

Sand still covers the worn, wooden floor beams. Two pool tables and two dart boards stay busy through the afternoons and evenings. A funny "wall of shame" fake ID display stands behind the long bar. A collection of cracked, drummer-autographed cymbals hang along the walls and rafters by the big music stage. It's still a hangout where you can have a "jam good time."

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