Most people call the beach area of the Outer Banks an island, especially as we are classified a barrier island. In theory, ever since the inlets closed in Duck and points north, we're actually more of a skinny peninsula, or as a current popular bumper sticker states—a sandbar. In any event, the beach area has always been considered the place where the "action is", especially during the summer. Much of that has changed over time. The tacky but fun beach spots focused on beach music, rock music and even alternative tunes have gone. No more Casino, Carolinian, the Atlantis, or Mex-Econo. What dance/band places remain cater to a younger crowd and many of them spend more time fighting off noise complaints and attempting to fit into the "family beach" atmosphere the Outer Banks is currently utilizing as its model sales pitch. As I have aged, my desire to get out of the house on weekends remains-- yet my ability to enjoy what music is still available on the main beach has decreased. No knocks against the newer forms of music (some of which I like), but for the most part these are bands and crowds that belong to a younger generation.
Surprisingly, while the beach has waned as an entertainment venue for the 40+ crowd, Manteo has quietly evolved into something the older crowd can enjoy. First, and most importantly, the waterfront area features something the beach sadly lacks---a place where one can park their car and wander among restaurants, local shops open past six at night…and bands suited for my age group. A good place to start is Striper's, on Hwy 64/264, nestled into the Shallowbag condo and marina complex between McDonald's and Darrel's. A downstairs bar provides nice views, karaoke during the week, and acoustic bands on weekends. Upstairs, a private club exists where you can enjoy mixed drinks, but you have to become a member. Dinner there is pretty good, especially in the bar area for those more interested in music than fine dining. A full service restaurant t exists on the second floor.
Moving to the waterfront, three venues are within walking distance of one another—providing food, beer and wine (but no cocktails as liquor-by-the drink is still not legal in Manteo). The Full Moon and Poor Richard's both provide music at night, bar food, and in the case of Full Moon a full menu for those wishing finer dining. Full Moon also features NC & VA based microbrews on draft. Oretaga'z features a wine bar and southwestern fare.
And, unlike the beach area, which seems to have an aversion to any kind of outdoor celebrating or the closing of streets, Manteo has taken an opposite approach. From Dare Days to their art shows on the waterfront and the First Friday celebrations, which start around April and run through the summer---revelers and shoppers can enjoy outdoor bands of all manner, stores operating late at night, and the three aforementioned venues—all of which remain open after the street celebration is over.
This past Friday we spent most of our time at Poor Richard's. The band was a male/female duo from Richmond—Ominotago. Beau & Chelsea both play acoustic guitar, a bongo, and sing.
They harmonize well and Beau usually takes lead although I felt Chelsea displayed a far stronger and emotionally diverse range in her vocals. The band has several original tunes, some of which are quite catchy and radio play worthy. They also cover a wide range of music—from The Beatles to Sublime to Guess Who—but their interpretations are so far removed from the originals one is hard pressed to call them covers. What Joe Cocker did with covers on his vocals, Ominotago does with the musical arrangements as well as the vocals.
In any event, a fun night. First Friday is a great idea and something the stodgier beach towns should consider, especially in the shoulder seasons. And the existence of intimate food, drink and music venues close to one another is sadly missing from the beach area. I plan to spend more time in Manteo in the coming months.
The only drawback to such an excursion continues to be the relative lack of and incredibly high cost of taxi service in the area—especially where distances are involved. You have to drive to Manteo and then return to the beach in your own car, or plan on spending a small fortune on alternative transport. So concentrate on food and music and less on adult beverages if you make the trip.