In Clemson, where college football rules on autumn Saturdays - and Friday nights - there are plenty of student bars serving cold beer. But for a true taste of a Tigers weekend, there's only one choice for students and alumni: the "world famous" Esso Club.
Built in 1933 as a gas station and grocery, the ramshackle-looking bar just a handful of long passes from Clemson's Memorial Stadium, aka Death Valley, often serves more than 1,800 orange-clad fans on home football weekends. The original "Esso" sign hangs on an outside wall, while inside customers knock down brews and talk about, most recently, Clemson's run to the 2015 national championship game.
Above the heads of clientele hang Esso Club caps autographed by, among others, comedian Tim Allen and ESPN broadcasters Brent Musberger and Dick Vitale. Musberger, who coined the phrase "the most exciting 25 seconds in college football" to describe the Tigers' pre-game run down The Hill, also introduced the Esso Club to the nation before a televised Clemson-Florida State game in 1988.
According to former coach Danny Ford, that was also the weekend Musberger "stole" Ford's pickup truck (with the keys in the ignition) to drive to the Esso Club for a beer. Unable to work a straight-shift, Musberger stripped the truck's gears, Ford said. In years since, Sports Illustrated, The Sporting News and ESPN The Magazine have dubbed the club as one of America's top college football traditions.
A bar since the 1970s, the Esso Club was bought for $200,000 and renovated in 2003, getting new bathrooms and a full kitchen. But it's the stories that make it special more than the beer or food. One 1980s alumnus tells how the name "Esso" was perfect for students in his day.
"You could buy a case of beer and some boiled peanuts, and they'd write it up as an oil change on your mom's credit card," he says. "But after three oil changes in a month, mom got suspicious."
Here are other college bars in South Carolina that also draw loyal followings:
Charleston (The Citadel, College of Charleston, Charleston Southern University)
Tattooed Moose, 1137 Morrison Drive; 843.277.2990
A.C.'s Bar & Grill, 467 King Street; 843.577.6742
The Upper Deck Tavern, 353 King Street; 843.958.0002
Clemson (Clemson University)
Tiger Town Tavern, 368 College Ave.; 864.654.5901
Columbia (University of South Carolina, Benedict College, Allen University)
Group Therapy, 2107 Greene Street; 803.256.1203
The Loose Cockaboose (TLC), 936 S. Stadium Road; 803.251.3087
Greenville (Furman University)
Connolly's Irish Pub, 24 E. Court Street; 864.467.0300
City Tavern, 128 N. Main Street; 864.239.2202
Orangeburg (South Carolina State University, Claflin University)
Applebee's, 2360 Chestnut Street; 803.535.0051
Spartanburg (Wofford College, Converse College)
Main Street Pub, 252 W. Main Street; 864.573.1165