As the clock strikes 6 p.m., the DJ says from his booth: “We are live from Fat Harold’s.”
He’s speaking to both the crowd of anxious shaggers — some who have been waiting for over an hour for music to start — and those listening live on the radio.
Couples flow in through the front door of the beach club on North Myrtle Beach’s Main Street. The ladies carry bags holding their shag shoes — shoes that have to be slick on the bottom.
Some shaggers stop by the grill to put in an order for a burger or grilled cheese.
It’s finally 6 p.m. on a Wednesday night.
And seconds into the first song, half-a-dozen couples are on the floor shagging.
It’s their therapy.
For the love of the dance
For so many North Myrtle Beach shaggers, going out to dance has been a ritual for decades.
“People come in here and are not intimidated,” said Ocean Drive Shag Club President Donna Williams. “This is the perfect place.”
This year, the OD Shag Club celebrates its 40th anniversary. And the club’s home has forever been Fat Harold’s, which welcomes members particularly on Wednesdays and Fridays for locals night.
“You have to get there early or you’ll be standing the whole time,” Williams said.
Williams, who has been a member of the OD Shag Club for a total of 18 years, said the club has more than 600 members, the largest of the 94 clubs under the Strand of Shaggers organization. The club has welcomed about 100 new members since the start of the year.
In honor of the 40th anniversary of the OD Shag Club, members will have a party April 21, kicking off the days-long celebration followed by a parade April 30.
But during non-celebration times, many of the club members come out to Fat Harold’s multiple times a week for their therapy and a little exercise.
Members Bill and Donna Althoff loved the shag so much, it brought them from Virginia to the Grand Strand.
“We moved here because of this dance,” Bill Althoff said. “So we built a house within walking distance to Fat Harold’s.
“It’s almost like my living room,” he said. “I feel safe here.”
On a Wednesday night, Bruce Schiller and his wife Susan have the perfect seats sitting at two stools that hug the dance floor and a front-row view of fellow shaggers.
The Schillers drive 18 hours from Texas to stay for several weeks and shag alongside other club members. The couple has been part of the OD Shag Club since 2000.
Fat Harold’s is the place to be
From the time the Schillers first stepped into Fat Harold’s, they were greeted with a warm, southern welcome, which relaxed them even more.
“Everyone wants to have a good time,” Bruce Schiller said.
And every time they returned, they would hug co-owner Harold Bessent each time they arrived.
“It was like homecoming,” Bruce Schiller said.
As thousands of people flocked into the doors of Fat Harold’s, Bessent would often greet them with, “Hey, Beau” or “Hey, Shug.” Shug was short for sugar.
Bessent died in May 2015. He left a special place that continues to be the home of the OD Shag Club, shag lessons and competitions.
Harold Worley, owner of Fat Harold’s, said Bessent’s death was a major loss to the shag and the beach music communities.
Worley and Bessent began working together about three decades before Bessent’s death and both were influential in starting Fat Harold’s.
Worley said Bessent played a role in helping to create many of the shag clubs that make up the folks who fill the beach clubs each night in North Myrtle Beach, as well as helping to make Fat Harold’s the home of the Ocean Drive Shag Club.
“Harold was very instrumental in starting the OD Shag Club and other shag clubs he helped put together across the Carolinas,” Worley said. “Their [OD Shag Club] home has been Fat Harold’s Beach Club and it has been that way since the beginning.”
Now, Lulu Quick, the general manager who saw Bessent as a father figure, makes sure the day-to-day operations continue.
“I don’t run the club, the club runs me,” she said.
Describing Fat Harold’s to someone who has never visited, Worley said it’s “obviously the home of old beach music.”
“We play basically the same music year after year after year,” he said. “The DJs that work with us know that it has to be something that our customers, including the OD Shag Club, can dance to. They come to Fat Harold’s to dance. It’s always been that way and we’re going to keep it that way.”
The walls of Fat Harold’s are covered in history, from plaques of those in the Shaggers Hall of Fame Keepers of the Dance to photos of famous people who have visited the beach club.
“We’ve had a lot of really cool people come through here,” Quick said, mentioning singers Teddy Pendergrass and O.C. Smith, as well as the cast of the movie Shag, which was filmed on the Grand Strand.
Fat Harold’s has played a big role in welcoming members of the OD Shag Club, creating a comfortable place for those who are new to the dance.
After Bessent died in 2015, Worley kept his promises to Bessent that the show would go on at Fat Harold’s.
“We had some good conversations as far as what we needed to do to keep the beach music and keep the shag alive and thriving,” Worley said of Bessent and his conversations as Bessent became ill. “His point was you give them good music you could dance to and cold beer and you’ll be fine…and friendly staff.
“We are trying to keep it moving forward,” Worley said. “It’s a niche market up there.”