Elegy for the Dead Dog

The Dead Dog Saloon, restored   Photo: deaddogsaloon.com

By Douglas Parker

The Dead Dog Saloon in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina burned down the day after a visit from the author.   Photo: live5news.com

If you find yourself near Myrtle Beach, South Carolina for either the golf or the sun or the simple delight of exploring what is known as the Low Country, take a side trip to a charming place called Murrells Inlet for a look around. A few years ago, you would have been remiss for not popping into the original, funky Dead Dog Saloon, a large restaurant on the Inlet with a great patio, inside and out, that overlooked a beautiful, inland tidal salt marsh. But alas, no more.

My wife and I visited and stayed for lunch, whiling away an hour or two eating, enjoying the vista and listening to some great music on the Dog’s booming stereo: The Byrds, Orbison, Cat Stevens, Mason Williams – imagine Mason Williams; I can’t remember the last time I heard “Classical Gas” and that remarkable guitar riff.  Kudos to the Dead Dog for great taste in unpretentious music, a kind of tribute to the Dog’s unpretentious self, a place that cleaves to the quotidian. Or as James Joyce put it, “none of your damned lawdeedaw air here.”

Speaking of taste, I ordered a fully dressed, foot-long hot dog (the irony of that only struck me the next day), some fries and a heady draft beer called a Fat Tire, a fine amber beer, designed to ensure a spare tire should one tend to overindulge, a temptation easy enough to succumb to in the sultry Carolinian heat. We had no illusions about the Dog holding a Michelin Star. A tasty, fully laden hot dog, great fries, wonderful music, a beer easily mistaken for ambrosia and an astonishing vista complete with a pelican staring at us – seemingly wanting to join us – from a wooden dock pole. That’s my definition of fine dining. Michelin – eat your heart out.

True to the canine motif of the place and probably as well to the importance of the hunt in this neck of the woods, the washrooms were called “Setters” and “Pointers.” The servers’ tee-shirts sported the jaunty motto describing Murrells as “A quaint little drinking village with a fishing problem.” We were happy there. A clean, well-lighted place as Hemingway might have put it had he dropped by for a Fat Tire – or 10. Now there was a man who could drink in earnest.

Delighted by our discovery, we thought we’d visit the Dog again the following day for a repeat order of food, music, a Fat Tire and further pelican gawking. After all, how can one get too much of a good thing? The day started off just as it should have: a bright blue sky and, unusual for that touristy region, not much highway traffic. Clearly God was in his heaven. But then suddenly and out of that blue sky, tragedy writ large.

When we pulled into the parking lot, the Dead Dog, tragically true to its name, was truly dead – at four that morning, the Dog had burned down. What we saw was a water-soaked blackened skeleton of a building that was still smoldering on its own pyre. “Dawg gone,” I said to my wife. We sat in the car stunned. I thought of my foot-long hot dog the day before. Hot dog indeed, I said to myself. Crestfallen by the fate that had befallen the Dog and heart-scalded, we walked next door to another restaurant, cheek by jowl to the erstwhile Dog, called Creek Ratz. From the Ratz’s patio, we had a pelican’s eye view of the ruined corpse of the Dead Dog. To mourn and commemorate its demise, I ordered a basket of fried dill pickles and a beer. Sadness accrues. Cursing my fate and troubling deaf heaven with my bootless cries, I said, perhaps too loudly, “if this had to happen at all, why couldn’t it have happened to the Creek Ratz? They don’t have draft Fat Tire!” Finally, however, I became more stoically resigned when I realized the irony of the event whose ruin we were staring at. As it turned out, the Dog had succumbed to the fire at four a.m. on Ash Wednesday.

So in less than 24 hours, we saw the Dead Dog Saloon alive and well and then, suddenly, dead. I understand that the Dog, like the Phoenix, sort of, has risen from its own ashes and has been rebuilt. I wonder if it resembles what it once was because in my mind, it’s dang hard to teach a new dog old tricks.

Douglas Parker is a 30-year Glebe resident with an interest in English Reformation literature, history and theology, and a penchant for travel.

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