Sunday, June 10, 2007

Harold's-Where Everybody Knows your Name

My dad sent me a copy of an article that appeared in the Beaufort Gazette today about my grandfather's place, Harold's Country Club. So I thought today I would veer from my normal ramblings about my kids and put something on my blog about my grandfather, Harold Peeples who passed away 4 years ago this past May. Although the pain of losing someone so special fades with time, I still feel an emptiness that will never completely go away.

Harold Peeples was a man of few words but when he spoke, people listened. He had a unique sense of humor and while he grew old, he never really grew up. He was a practical joker and got the biggest kick out of making others laugh.
On any given day, you could see him at his place, perched atop a stool at the bar. Newspaper spread open, cigarette in hand. If someone entered Harolds' as a stranger, they left as a friend. So many people were touched by his kindness and generosity that even today after his passing, his spirit lives on.
The article that appeared in the paper is below. While it touches on what Harold's is, you will never truly know unless you visit.

An Eclectic Lowcountry Landmark

Published: Sunday, June 10th, 2007
YEMASSEE -- Harold's Country Club is like any other bar that sells gas, bait and the best steaks around.

Founded in 1973 as Peeples Texaco, the club stands alone on a barren highway in Yemassee, population 839. Decades-old gas pumps display the 2007 price, $2.989, and a flashing sign beams Harold Peeples' likeness, sandwiched between a mug of beer and a grill full of steaks.

Peeples died in 2003, but his spirit and memories are alive and well at the country club, which, in case you haven't guessed, has no swimming pools or golf links.

'They used to cook in the garage where they were working on cars, and when the dinner bell rang, Harold would stand in the middle of the bar and have his blessing,' said Hampton mayor and Harold's regular John Rhoden. 'Harold wanted everybody to have a good time, but he ran a tight ship. If you caused any ruckus, he would say you were banned for 99 years and a day.'

Few ever caused any ruckus though.

Harold's has a laid-back, friendly atmosphere that many compare to the fictional bar Cheers: the place where everybody knows your name. But familiarity is not what makes people comfortable at Harold's.

'Even people who have never been before, I think they just feel at home,' said Peeples' daughter Joyce Bunton, who still refers to Harold's as 'the station.'

The smiling patrons and welcoming bar staff contribute to the home-like atmosphere, but so does the decor, which might remind some of their grandparents' basement.

A hodgepodge of cloths cover long, family-style tables in the dining room, which is mainly lit with Christmas lights, glowing beer signs and a couple of stray desk lamps. Empty glass bottles and movie posters line the walls, while a carousel pony and a bear in a Santa costume stand watch.

'We always say, if it goes up (on the wall), it never comes down,' Bunton said, and patrons frequently bring signs, photos and memorabilia to hang.

Dinner is served four nights a week including Thursday 'pot luck,' an homage to the get-togethers that gradually turned Peeples Texaco into Harold's Country Club.

'My dad would get together with several couples to eat, and when the weather was bad, they would come to the garage to eat,' Bunton said. 'Finally he said, 'I'll do the cooking,' ... and when other people started showing up, wanting to eat, he charged them a couple of bucks.'

Nowadays, pot luck at Harold's means, 'We just look in the paper and see what's on sale, and that's what we make,' said Manager Ronald Murdaugh.

Harold's can serve up to 180 people in a single seating, and everybody gets the same meal. On Wednesdays, they make hamburgers and hot dogs, and on Fridays, it's hot wings. But nothing compares to Saturdays, when there are two seatings instead of one.

'You've got to come here on Saturdays for steak night,' said Henry Sauls of Beaufort, who described himself as a high-roller out to shoot pool at a country bar. 'This place gets transformed into a honky-tonk, steak-slinging, karaoke-singing good time.'

There's no mistaking that Harold's is a country bar, with the horseshoes and bull's horns on the wall and the deep Southern accents seldom heard in Beaufort. But Harold's karaoke nights don't just feature Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Kentucky Headhunters: Patrons also dance to Tone-Loc and do the electric slide.

'They run the gamut from senior citizens to church groups, blue collar, rednecks, white collar ... even the occasional movie star,' Rhoden said of the club's clientele while sitting next to stacks of Blow Pops, Alka-Seltzer and other convenience store items.

Gov. Mark Sanford is a 'pretty regular' Saturday customer, Bunton said, and Mel Gibson and Dennis Hopper are among those who have dropped by to eat. Peeples also taught a homemaking expert he called 'Martha Somebody' how to fry a turkey at Hollywood producer Joel Silver's Auldbrass Plantation in Yemassee.

Bunton said one reason Harold's attracts such a diverse crowd is its central location at the junction of Beaufort, Colleton, Hampton and Jasper counties.

'It's not too far from anywhere,' she said, 'even though it's in the middle of nowhere.'

But the main attraction is what Rhoden called 'the atmosphere, hospitality and camarader-ship' at Harold's. It's the kind of place where a stranger can argue at the bar about whether there are 50 or 52 stars on the American flag (the two extra are for Guam and Puerto Rico).

'Harold's has something for everyone,' Sauls said, whether they're looking for lottery tickets, fishing lures, pickled pigs feet, $2 Coronas or 'just good people having a good time.'


Sandy said...

Oh Becky, this was so heartwarming! I would love to visit the place some day.

Becky said...

It's an awesome place!