May 2009

The Boathouse II Restaurant: Simplifying Life One Sunset at a Time.

Author:  Craig Hysell | Photographer: Photography by Anne & John Brackett

Do you remember those times in your life when you felt at peace? Felt happy? The events that create this sense of well-being vary for each one of us—what makes one person happy is easily dismissed, misunderstood or incomprehensible to another—and yet all of us have felt at least some semblance of serenity or joy at some point in our lives. Why? Because, no matter what the individual catalyst, we all, at one time or another, let go of everything in our complicated little lives and live directly in the present. No sordid past. No worried, hurried future. Just the here and the now. Just the moment. How simple. How relaxing… how elusive.
But what if it didn’t have to be?

It’s hard to tell you the story about The Boathouse II without telling you a little bit of my own. See, I work there. I’ve been a bartender on Hilton Head Island since 1999. I’ve wanted to work at The Boathouse since 2006. This year, I finally got hired. I’m here to tell you what The Boathouse is about not merely as an observer, but as a contributor. I’ve got the inside scoop, and The Boathouse is more than just a cozy tavern-like décor and a huge outside deck.

In 15 years of food and beverage experience, I’ve handled all the ups and downs with one, simple, keep-it-even mantra: “Keep your expectations low and you’re rarely disappointed.” (Mt. Gay rum and Grand Marnier have also helped quite a bit.) I don’t expect much from anything or anybody, so I’m never really surprised by anything or anyone. It’s worked for a very long time, but, every once in awhile, something catches the cynic in me off guard. In a good way.

From the moment I set foot in The Boathouse this March, I have felt welcome. Warmly welcomed. That’s unique in the food and beverage business, where people often come and go like peel and eat shrimp or late-night Jager bombs. Many of us cooks, bartenders, servers and locals keep the new guy or girl at arm’s length for awhile; we don’t want to get to know them—get to like them—and then watch them move on or screw up and get the axe. It messes with our mojo.

Then I noticed something more impressive. That warm welcome had nothing to do with me. The people who work there are like that with everybody: co-workers and customers. So are the regulars. Maybe it’s because the restaurant is on the water. Maybe it’s because they hire good people. Maybe it’s something else, something less tangible. Whatever it is, it’s special. There’s camaraderie here, and it’s all-inclusive.

The kitchen serves up fantastic food: daily specials, tuna sashimi, spinach and artichoke dip, salads, sandwiches, apps and absolutely delicious entrées. The servers are attentive, enthusiastic, informative and empathetic. Acoustic entertainers like Jeff Beasley, Reid Richmond, Thomas Claxton and Jim Harper control the vibe nightly with each song and strum of the guitar. The bartenders sling chatter, smiles and drinks. Then we all get to watch the sun set. And that’s where everything, no matter how hectic, makes perfect sense. If you’re paying attention.

Marker 13, the outside bar at The Boathouse, sits directly on Skull Creek. You could throw a rock and hit the waterway, even at low tide. Boat captains roll in with fresh catches and large stories. The fellas over at the marina wash away the day’s work over a few cold ones. Locals grab their favorite chairs or corners to celebrate absolutely nothing at all, and in that way, they are celebrating absolutely everything special about life. Visiting families fill up the outside deck with sunburned cheeks, growling bellies and arms full of children. Things can go from quiet to crazy in 10 minutes. Drink tickets ring off the hook. Everybody needs something at once. It’s hot. The action is as persistent as the summer heat. And yet, clarity seems more amenable that close to the sea.

As the sun gets close to the horizon, the most amazing yellows, golds, oranges and reds are tossed across the sky from Mother Nature’s paint can. The day cools off. The breeze tickles bare skin, ruffling the live oaks and Spanish moss. And, no matter how crazy the day is or has been, all I have to do is look up and there’s the view: the indefatigable present. There’s serenity. There’s joy. There’s the sun on my face, waving it’s “see you later.” Some people get it and some don’t: too wrapped up in the past or too busy trying to control the future. All they have to do is simplify things, re-evaluate their expectations and take in the view. Live in the moment just for a moment. It’s so easy; I often wonder how it can be missed. But, what people choose to see or not see has always been up to them, and you can’t force it.

Of course, if you just want some tasty food and a delicious cocktail instead of all that existential waterside enlightenment, The Boathouse II is there for you as well. You don’t need low expectations. You just need to stand in the right place and get some sun on your face. See you there.

The Boathouse II is open every day from 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday brunch runs from 11a.m. to 3 p.m., and the Marker 13 bar opens at 4 p.m. daily. Reservations are encouraged. Call (843) 681-3663 for more information or visit online at boathouserestaurant.net.

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