Growing up, his family’s retail store was located next door to the good-times, honky-tonk on Ninth Avenue North. At the age of 22, not long after taking over the family business, Shamah decided to purchase the bar.
Alabama, The Bowery's famed and longtime house band, had just left for the big stage.
“When I was young, I went out on tour with Alabama, selling T-shirts and the like,” Shamah said. “When they signed with RCA (Records) in 1980, the lady who owned the bar wanted to sell. I figured it was easier to be an owner than a roadie.”
These days, as The Bowery prepares to celebrate its 75th anniversary in February 2019, Shamah sees himself almost as the keeper of a public trust. Generations of families return to The Bowery each summer as part of family vacation traditions and Shamah wants them to have the same experience they've been enjoying all these years.
Although the once-brick building is now wood, the interior, where most memories are made, is essentially the same as it's always been.
“We tweak a few things, but mostly we keep things as they were so families who’ve come before want to come back,” Shamah said. “We have people who met here, got married and have come back to celebrate their 50th anniversary."
“They’re part of The Bowery family. They can sit at the bar, and they might be from New York or North Carolina or Pennsylvania, but they feel like locals.”
Back when Alabama (celebrating its own 50th anniversary in 2018) was in its heyday, The Bowery featured a saloon up front and a large music venue with a stage and small dance floor in the back. Many of the bar’s chairs date back 50 to 60 years. The stage and its mural also are the same, as are the concrete floors and black, 10-foot-high ceiling.
To allow everyone to enjoy the entertainment, Shamah replaced the wall between the two areas with a half-wall and a chicken-wire screen. In recent years, he added a sidewalk cafe.
For the last 20-something years, The Bowery house band has been the Bounty Hunters. They primarily play country-rock music, but they're happy to perform whatever fans have a hankering to hear.
“They’re like a human jukebox, because they work for tips,” Shamah said.
Some of The Bowery’s most beloved traditions are the stuff of legends, such as waiters who can carry multiple mugs of beer at a time. A former waiter, “Scuba” Osborne, set a Guinness World Record for carrying 34 mugs – without a tray. The current staff can handle 20-22 mugs, but it's not encouraged.
A former waiter known as “Don’t Cry Joe” reportedly broke another record back in the '30s for dancing 5,295 consecutive hours.
The club’s motto is “Ya can’t beat fun,” and Shamah and his staff take that idea to heart.
If you’re looking for high-priced cocktails and haute cuisine, go elsewhere. “We built the Bowery on blue-collar folks from North Carolina, South Carolina, the weekend warriors who’d come from their jobs and spend the weekend, and often their paychecks,” Shamah said.
On any given night, the audience might include famous musicians, such as William Lee Golden of the Oak Ridge Boys, country music stars Big and Rich, Jamie Johnson and Mark Chestnut.
“We can’t afford to hire them,” Shamah quipped, “but they’ve come on vacation.”
Other notable patrons have included a sword-swallower and a woman who Shamah said was “dancing on the ceiling.”
You get the idea. The Bowery is a good place to sit, have a cold one, people-watch, hear music and enjoy the beach.
A sign out front of the bar proclaims it as “the Eighth Wonder of the World.” Whatever its place in history, visitors to Myrtle Beach shouldn’t miss seeing this coastal landmark. Drop in for a beer and perhaps pick up a T-shirt, cap or bottle of hot sauce with the bar’s logo. You're sure to have a good time.
Located at 110 9th Avenue North, The Bowery opens at 11 a.m., daily. For more information, visit www.thebowery.com or call 843.626.3445.