Legends in the Making: Outer Banks Nightlife

By Molly Harrison

It was a cast party for the record books following the run of an epic show. After its final events in December of 2017 and January of 2018, as Kelly’s Restaurant and Tavern prepared to close its curtain forever, the stories flowed. Couples reminisced about meeting in the Kelly’s bar and eventually marrying and starting families. Former employees told of their starts in the kitchen, bar and restaurant, learning the trade that would launch them far into the hospitality industry. Musicians and music lovers mourned the loss of a beloved venue with a real stage and dance floor. Young and old recalled a rite of passage – their first legal drink at Kelly’s.

No doubt about it, Kelly’s was a beach nightlife icon. With consistent live entertainment and music several times a week year round for more than 30 years, Kelly’s transformed from startup in 1985 to the realm of legend, joining the ranks of Nags Head Beach Club, The Casino, Soundside, Toot and Tell, Fernando’s Ale House, A Restaurant By George, the Armada bar, The Carolinian, The Atlantis, Mex-Econo, Papagayo, Quagmire’s, The Pit and so many more nighttime hotspots that were beloved but, alas, had to come to an end. 

They’re gone, but the settings, details and stories of these places live on in the memories of many: barefooted bebopping on the polished wood floors in the un-airconditioned upstairs of The Casino; the red carpeted walls, sandy floors and abysmal restrooms of The Atlantis; the liquor lockers at Fernando’s; the fire-hazard wood stove at Soundside; the mind-blowing graffiti and sweaty moshpit at MexEcono; inebriated youth lounging on tufted sofas in the glow of Tiffany lamps at Port-O-Call. Surely the stage-side dancing pole, beefy bouncers (yes, you too, Collis!), historic photos and cast of cougars and barflies at Kelly’s will long live in the minds of many locals. 

Where will the memories be made now? Never fear. The Outer Banks has dozens of established bars and nightlife venues and a new generation of hangouts and hotspots where the memories of the future are already being made. Some of these newer ones may turn out to be fly by night but fun for the moment, and some of them will prove to have the stuff of legends. A few of these have already been establishing themselves as such. 

The thing is, there’s more nightlife than ever on the Outer Banks. From Corolla to Ocracoke to Manteo, even in Wanchese and Colington, something is happening every night of the week year round. 

From locals’ hideaways to karaoke dens to late-night dance fests, these are the places that currently have what it takes to draw a crowd.

Bars, Hangouts & Watering Holes, A to Z

Amusement

They say laughter is the best medicine (I would argue that salt water is the best, but laughter is definitely next on the list). When you need to laugh, The Comedy Club OBX brings nationally touring comedians to the Ramada Plaza Oceanfront Hotel in Kill Devil Hills several nights a week during the summer months. Lost Colony Brewery in Manteo offers Bad Movie Pint Night on Mondays, and loud criticism and heckling are encouraged.

Beer

If you’re looking for locally brewed beer, you can find it here. Four local breweries brew and serve their own beer: Outer Banks Brewing Station in Kill Devil Hills, Lost Colony Brewery in Manteo, 1718 Brewing in Ocracoke and Weeping Radish Farm Brewery in Jarvisburg. Look for these local brands on tap in other bars and restaurants as well.
Some local bars are especially focused on craft beers, which usually include the locally brewed choices, and are prone to intriguing tap takeovers. Some of these include Barefoot Bernie’s in Kitty Hawk, Trio in Kitty Hawk, Red Drum Tap House in Nags Head, Waveriders in Nags Head, Fish Heads in Nags Head, Turner’s High Moon Bar in Avon and Howard’s Pub in Ocracoke.

Club Scene and DJs

Admittedly, this is not really a thing on the Outer Banks. If you’re used to city clubbing, you won’t think the OBX version of dance clubs is remotely close. OBX clubbing happens a few nights a week late night in restaurants in which the tables have been cleared and the lights are turned off. Bring in a DJ and some strobe lights and there you go. If you like to dance with a DJ look to Uncle Ike’s in Corolla, Longboards in Kitty Hawk, Outer Banks Brewing Station in Kill Devil Hills, Chili Peppers in Kill Devil Hills and New York Pizza Pub in Nags Head.

Decks on the Roof

Yes, you can perch osprey-like above the island with a view of the sand dunes and ocean. Feel the sun on your face and the wind in your hair at Steamers in Southern Shores, Rundown Café in Kitty Hawk, Art’s Place in Kitty Hawk, Black Pelican in Kitty Hawk, Hurricane Mo’s in Kitty Hawk, Mulligan’s in Nags Head and Howard’s Pub in Ocracoke.

Early Birds & Day Drinkers

Not everyone wants to stay out until the wee hours (or even past 8 o’clock). Some people like a few tipples and noshes in the late afternoon, and you’ll find them at walk-up outdoor venues like Corolla Beer Garden in Corolla, Sweet T’s in Duck, Nags Head Pier in Nags Head, Fish Heads in Nags Head, Mimi’s Tiki Hut at Pirate’s Cove in Manteo, OBX Marina in Wanchese, The Wreck Tiki Bar in Hatteras, SmacNally’s in Ocracoke and Zillie’s in Ocracoke.

Femmes

Want to get the girls together for a night of your own? In season, Outer Banks Brewing Station offers a Ladies Night with a DJ, free admission and drink specials. In the off-season, Rooster’s Southern Kitchen in Kill Devil Hills offers Martinis & Manicures as part of Working Women’s Wednesdays on Wednesday evenings from 5 to 8 p.m.

Games

Don’t just sit there – do something. For activities like kids’ playgrounds, cornhole, horseshoes, bocce, ring toss or hula hooping, check out the backyard bars at The Roadside in Duck, Bonzer Shack in Kill Devil Hills (plus ping pong, giant Connect Four and Jenga too), Outer Banks Brewing Station in Kill Devil Hills, StingWray’s in Rodanthe, Pangea Tavern in Avon and Ocracoke Oyster Company in Ocracoke. All of these are family friendly. For trivia nights, look to Sundogs in Corolla, Jolly Roger in Kill Devil Hills, Lost Colony Brewery in Manteo and Poor Richard’s in Manteo. Tortuga’s Lie in Nags Head has full beach volleyball courts out back. OBX Bowling Center in Nags Head offers bowling (obvs), serves beer and wine and stays open late (until 1 a.m. on weekends). Turner’s High Moon Bar in Avon has shuffleboard. See P – Pool later on this list.

Highballs & Craft Cocktails

When it comes to spirits, most local bars offer a range from the well to the top shelf, and many places have a dedicated cocktail menu. Some bars specialize, however. Rooster’s Southern Kitchen in Kill Devil Hills specializes in bourbon and often hosts off-season bourbon tastings that are fundraisers for local organizations. Argyle’s and Ocean Boulevard in Kitty Hawk have long specialized in martinis and offer a variety of flavor combinations. Bad Bean Baja Grill in Kitty Hawk focuses on fresh-fruit margaritas and mojitos. Agave Roja in Corolla specializes in tequila and crafts some of the best cocktails on the whole Outer Banks. For expertly crafted, truly unique cocktails, also look to Metropolis in Corolla, Eastside in Duck, Grand Staff & Stein in Kill Devil Hills, 1587 in Manteo, Blue Water Grill in Manteo, Turner’s High Moon Bar in Avon and Flying Melon in Ocracoke.

Iconic

Like an old friend who never lets you down, some places are always there. Sam & Omie’s in Nags Head has been around since 1937, and it’s still welcoming patrons to its bar. Owens’ Restaurant in Nags Head  has been welcoming guests for more than 70 years, and the upstairs bar is a quiet place to get a drink. Awful Arthur’s Oyster Bar in Kill Devil Hills is young compared to those places, but it’s still legendary in the minds of many Outer Bankers; it’s been serving oysters and beers for almost 35 years. Tortuga’s Lie in Nags Head tends to fall into the same legendary category as does Pop’s in Buxton.

Jazz

Dedicated jazz clubs they are not, but there are a few places where you can enjoy live jazz from time to time. Art’s Place in Kitty Hawk has jazz night with Joe Mapp and friends every Monday night. The Blue Point in Duck and Outer Banks Brewing Station in Kill Devil Hills host jazz brunches on Sunday mornings. Occasionally you might catch some live jazz at Roadside in Duck or at Trio in Kitty Hawk. During Duck Jazz Festival weekend in Duck in October, the town’s bars and restaurants fill up with a lot more jazz offerings. 

Karaoke

When you’re ready to take your act from the shower to the stage, start with karaoke. Whether you’re in key or not doesn’t matter as those who are not seem to be just as entertaining as those who are. Some OBX karaoke hotspots include Sundogs in Corolla, Uncle Ike’s in Corolla, Sunset Grille in Duck, Longboards in Kitty Hawk, Jolly Roger in Kill Devil Hills, Peppercorns in Kill Devil Hills, Mulligans in Nags Head, Fish Heads in Nags Head, Poor Richard’s in Manteo, StingWray’s in Rodanthe, Froggy Dog in Avon and Sandbar and Grille in Buxton.

Locals

Locals tend to pack up in particular places. You’ll find Outer Banks residents in nearly every local establishment, but here are some of the places where you’ll find the most locals rubbing shoulders: Hurricane Mo’s in Kitty Hawk, Art’s Place in Kitty Hawk, The Blue Crab in Colington, Sam & Omie’s in Nags Head, Poor Richard’s in Manteo, Lost Colony Brewery in Manteo, Oceana’s in Avon, Turner’s High Moon Bar in Avon, Pop’s Raw Bar in Buxton, Capt’n Rolo’s in Frisco and Dajio and O’Bar in Ocracoke.

Music

Acoustic music is ubiquitous on the Outer Banks in the summer. Nearly every restaurant brings in a musician with a guitar to entertain the bar patrons and those who are a facing a wait for a table. The rest of the year you can find acoustic music in many bars, including but not limited to Aqua and Wave Pizza Cafe in Duck, Peppercorns, Beachside Bistro and Rooster’s in Kill Devil Hills and Poor Richard’s in Manteo.

For live and loud plugged-in bands, the kind of music that’ll have your eardrums ringing the next morning, there are a handful of places with an actual stage to welcome the bigger bands: Outer Banks Brewing Station in Kill Devil Hills, New York Pizza Pub in Nags Head, JJ Brewbaker’s in Nags Head, Watermen’s Bar & Grill in Waves, the Beach Klub in Avon and Gaffer’s in Ocracoke. 

Outdoor venues that occasionally have bands and festivals include Whalehead in Corolla, Duck Town Park in Duck, Soundside Event Site in Nags Head, Roanoke Island Festival Park in Manteo and Waterside Theatre in Manteo. 

Several other local bars offer full bands, just not on an official stage. Look to Sundogs in Corolla, Uncle Ike’s in Corolla, Mike Dianna’s Grill Room in Corolla, Ocean Boulevard in Kitty Hawk, Trio in Kitty Hawk, Basnight’s Lone Cedar Café in Nags Head, Fish Heads in Nags Head, Poor Richard’s in Manteo, StingWray’s in Rodanthe, Turner’s High Moon Bar in Avon, Capt’n Rolo’s in Frisco and The Wreck in Hatteras.

Nightowls

Like to prowl the scene until the wee hours? These places are totally chill and family oriented by day, but when they transform into nightlife venues after the dinner rush, things can get a little rowdier. Late-night venues include Sundogs in Corolla, Uncle Ike’s in Corolla, Longboards in Kitty Hawk, Jolly Roger in Kill Devil Hills, Outer Banks Brewing Station in Kill Devil Hills, Chilli Peppers in Kill Devil Hills, Bonzer Shack in Kill Devil Hills, New York Pizza Pub in Nags Head, Lucky 12 in Nags Head, JJ Brewbaker’s in Nags Head, Fish Heads in Nags Head, Turner’s High Moon Bar in Avon and Gaffers in Ocracoke. Very limited menus are available for late-night munchies. By the time they serve breakfast or lunch the next day you’d never guess what went on the night before. 

Outside Tables & Yard Bars

In three full seasons, the Outer Banks is perfect for open-air fun. Lots of local places have decks (see D – Decks on the Rooftop in this list) for enjoying drinks or meals outdoors. Some other enchanting outdoor-oriented venues include Corolla Beer Garden in Corolla, The Blue Point in Duck, Roadside in Duck, Ocean Boulevard in Kitty Hawk, Bonzer Shack in Kill Devil Hills, Outer Banks Brewing Station in Kill Devil Hills, Peppercorns in Kill Devil Hills, Miller’s Waterfront in Nags Head, Striper’s in Manteo, Mimi’s Tiki Hut in Manteo at Pirate’s Cove, Lost Colony Brewery in Manteo, OBX Marina in Wanchese, Open Water Grill in Avon, Sandbar and Grille in Buxton, The Wreck Tiki Bar in Hatteras, SmacNally’s in Ocracoke Jolly Roger Pub in Ocracoke and Dajio in Ocracoke.

Pool

You won’t find a dedicated pool hall on the Outer Banks, but there are some establishments that have pool tables. Here are a few: Longboards in Kitty Hawk, Trio in Kitty Hawk, The Blue Crab in Colington, OBX Bowling Center in Nags Head, Red Drum in Nags Head, Lucky 12 in Nags Head, Lighthouse Sports Bar in Buxton and Flying Melon in Ocracoke.

Quiet

For those times when you just want to slip away to a quiet, cozy and romantic bar, look to Argyle’s in Kitty Hawk, JK’s in Kill Devil Hills, The R Bar at the Dunes in Nags Head, 1587 in Manteo, Avenue Grill in Manteo and Flying Melon in Ocracoke.

Relaxed

Basically the whole Outer Banks bar and nightlife scene is relaxed and laid back. As mentioned earlier, late night can get rowdy in some establishments, but those same places are super-chill by day. Dress around here is very casual, though you might feel out of place wearing flip-flops, beachwear, cutoffs and the like in some places, especially a few of those in our Upscale category.

Sunsets on the Soundfront

Watching the sunset is viable entertainment on the Outer Banks, and the soundside restaurants and bars offer a front-row view. Be forewarned: In the summer months you’ll have stiff competition for a seat on the deck or by the window. In Corolla, look to Mike Dianna’s. In Duck, you’ve got Kimball’s Kitchen, Paper Canoe, Sunset Grille, The Blue Point, Coastal Cantina, Wave Pizza Café and Aqua. In Kill Devil Hills there’s Blue Crab Tavern, and in Nags Head there are Pamlico Jack’s, Miller’s Waterfront and Sugar Creek. On Hatteras Island you can watch sunsets from Watermen’s Bar & Grill in Waves, Good Winds in Waves, Open Water Grill in Avon and Hatteras, Sandbar and Grille in Buxton and Dinky’s in Hatteras.

TVs & Sports

Lots of local establishments show sporting events on TVs in the bar. A lot of times it’s endless loops of surfing videos, but some places are more dedicated to sports than others. Sports fans tend to gather at Uncle Ike’s and Ike’s Bites in Corolla, Sundogs in Corolla, Fishbones in Duck, Barefoot Bernie’s in Kitty Hawk, BK Shuckers in Kitty Hawk, Two Roads Tavern in Kill Devil Hills, Goombays Grille in Kill Devil Hills, Just George’s at Captain George’s in Kill Devil Hills, Mama Kwan’s in Kill Devil Hills, Lucky 12 in Nags Head and Lighthouse Sports Bar in Buxton.

Upscale

If you’re looking for impressive drinks in a classy atmosphere, you can find that here too. We suggest Metropolis in Corolla, Kimball’s Kitchen at The Sanderling Resort in Duck, The Blue Point in Duck, East Side in Duck, Ocean Boulevard in Kitty Hawk, 1587 in Manteo and Flying Melon in Ocracoke.

Vino

True oenophiles will appreciate the offerings at Trio in Kitty Hawk, where there’s a wine vending machine for tastings and an excellent wine list for when you’re ready to commit. Other establishments that are committed to wine include The Blue Point in Duck, Kimball’s Kitchen in Duck, Ocean Boulevard in Kitty Hawk, Lone Cedar in Nags Head,  1587 in Manteo and Blue Water Grill in Manteo at Pirate’s Cove.

Waterfront

For bars and watering holes on the soundside of the island, see S – Sunsets on the Soundfront category. While several restaurants have an ocean view, there are only a handful of truly oceanfront restaurants/bars on the Outer Banks. In Corolla there’s the Oceanfront Grille at Corolla Light Resort. In Kitty Hawk, Black Pelican counts because while it is on the west side of the beach road, there are no structures between the restaurant and the ocean. In Kill Devil Hills there is Beachside Bistro at the Sea Ranch. In Nags Head you’ve got Nags Head Pier and Fish Heads at OBX Pier. 

On the Nags Head/Manteo Causeway Tale of the Whale and Basnight’s Lone Cedar Café offer waterfront views. In Manteo, 1587, Poor Richard’s, Avenue Grille and Striper’s are directly alongside Shallowbag Bay, and Blue Water and Mimi’s Tiki Hut are waterfront at Pirate’s Cove Marina. OBX Marina has a waterfront bar on the docks in Wanchese. Down in Ocracoke, bars situated right on Silver Lake include Jolly Roger Pub & Marina and SmacNally’s.

Xenial

I’ll save you the trouble of googling it (I had to look it up too): It means hospitable, especially to visiting strangers. Every bar and hangout on the Outer Banks falls into this category. Even the establishments that cater to locals are always happy to see new faces. Everyone is welcome.

Yoga

The big-city trends do eventually trickle down to the Outer Banks. Outer Banks Brewing Station offers Beer Yoga on Sunday mornings at 10:30 a.m., upstairs on the mezzanine in colder months, outdoors in warmer months.  

Zany

The award for the most amusingly unconventional and idiosyncratic local bar goes to the Jolly Roger in Kill Devil Hills. The interior is a pirate-themed hodgepodge the likes of which you’ve never seen. Second runner up is the Backside Bar at Roadside Café in Duck, where the setup and décor is the perfect blend of funky and fun.


 

About the Author Molly Harrison
Molly Harrison is managing editor at OneBoat, publisher of OuterBanksThisWeek.com. She moved to Nags Head in 1994 and since then has made her living writing articles and creating publications about the people, places and culture of the Outer Banks. When not working she practices and teaches yoga and spends as much time as possible outside and in or on the water with her husband and two children.