MYRTLE BEACH - It is almost shabby from the outside, located in a nondescript strip mall that includes a fast food place, real estate agencies and numerous sundry businesses.
Step inside and it's chic, a restaurant, coffee house and art gallery that is inspired by something you might find in Europe. It offers fine dining and even finer art.
But bring your checkbook. The art in this gallery can cost you up to $25,000.
Collectors Cafe and Gallery is an upscale contemporary Mediterranean restaurant and Euro style coffee house. The menu features a wide selection of fresh seafood, freshly cut beef filet, lamb and veal, as well as salads and grilled flatbread selections. The coffee house offers more than a dozen homemade desserts, freshly brewed coffee, artisan hot tea, and a variety of specialty espresso and coffee drinks.
But it's the art and environment that gives it the wow factor.
The Collectors Cafe and Gallery, which will celebrate 20 years in May, is not your father's Myrtle Beach experience. It was the brainchild of Thomas Davis and Michael Smith, who created the bistro in an attempt to bring a little more culture to Myrtle Beach, a city known for its wide beaches, golf courses and an eclectic mix of 14 million tourists a year.
"I would go out to party; there was nothing culturally stimulating," said Smith, 55, who was born in North Carolina, but grew up in The Netherlands. "You know the Myrtle Beach bar scene; there was nothing to it. We decided to build a place of our own. We didn't want it to appeal to the tourists. We wanted it to be somewhat private and for the locals. That's why we didn't want it to stand out from the outside. We wanted something different inside."
Said Davis: "It was a necessity. We were tired of going out every night and doing the same thing. We wanted it to be part Paris, part Charleston and part New York. A lot of people didn't think it would work. After I sold my first two paintings, I thought, 'This is going to work.' Today, I have sold over 400 paintings."
Smith and Davis met while playing beach volleyball. They were single and bored of the nightlife Myrtle Beach offered. Both graduated from Clemson, were fed up with the 9-to-5 corporate world and ready to take a chance on making a slice of the Grand Strand a little more cosmopolitan.
Davis, a third-generation Myrtle Beach native, approached his parents about renting a building they owned on North Kings Highway. The Collectors Cafe and Gallery started as a coffee house and art gallery with a small menu of grilled food. It even included a dance club, complete with strobe lights and a fog machine.
They had the dream and did the work. They got four month's rent for free and began renovations that lasted seven months. They put up tin ceilings, laid mosaics in the floors of the restrooms and a created stained-glass bar. They even built some of the tables, which are strong enough to support people dancing on them.
Today, it has grown to more than 6,000 square feet and includes six rooms and a menu that has earned praise from regional and national publications.
"It's constantly changing," Smith said. "Just recently we added new carpet and new wood floors. We shape up and clean up. We are constantly re-arranging the art, so it changes from one visit to the next."
They are artists as well and you can find their works on the wall. But they are not alone. More than 50 regional and national artists from Miami to Canada have had their art exhibited there. The work includes just about every possible medium: sculptures in metal, clay, and glass; pen and ink drawings; mosaics, and photographs. The gallery gets a commission that ranges from 30 to 40 percent.
It attracts locals, tourists and celebrities, including Montel Williams, Samuel Jackson and the music duo of Hall and Oates.
The venue is popular for special occasions like New Year's Eve and Valentine's Day and can be rented for events such as wedding receptions.
There is entertainment nightly, including jazz bands and disc jockeys - although customers no longer dance on the tables.
"Tommy is a great artist and great business partner," Smith said. "This area was starved for something like this and we helped fill that void. Once we opened the doors, the people started coming."
Davis, who has had his art exhibited in Charleston, noted Myrtle Beach can offer up a slice of sophistication.
"Myrtle Beach was only incorporated in 1937 and Charleston was founded in 1670," he said. "They had a head start and Myrtle Beach has some catching up to do. This was our contribution to closing that gap."