Letting men be men

Kemper Dickinson stands watch over a sizzling pile of bratwurst during a Man Cave party he recently hosted for about a dozen buddies at his West Ashley home.

A half-dozen men with ball caps and beer cans hovered around Kemper Dickinson as he unloaded a steaming mass of brats onto a kitchen table already brimming with pig and cow products.

The grill outside Dickinson's West Ashley home sizzled and popped with still more sausages, their casings sweating under the heat of the fiery coals. The closest thing on hand to a vegetable was a tray of jalapeno peppers swaddled in bacon.

Welcome to a Man Cave gathering.

These testosterone-laden get-togethers, dubbed "MEATings," are popping up around the country thanks to Man Cave Worldwide, an organization dedicated to letting men be men. Well, that and selling meat, barbecue tools, beer mugs, camouflage duct tape and a host of other products for the ultra-casual male. It's like a Super Bowl party with gear. Think Mary Kay with marinades or Tupperware pitching poker chips and mini-keg dispensers.

Men long have sought out a corner of their homes to call their own, a primordial place to stow the pool table, a beer fridge and a television that glows with highlights on Game Day. Man Cave, founded last year by 22-year-old University of Minnesota student Nick Beste, aims to fill these guy grottoes with the proper accoutrements and make some cash in the process.

Man Cave "advisers" like Dickinson host their own MEATings or travel to other homes to demonstrate skills such as grilling a beer can chicken. In return, they get a cut of sales and other perks.

Dickinson, 36, a carpet cleaner and part-time photographer, couldn't see much of a downside to making extra cash while grilling and swilling.

"I figured, even if I ended up breaking even, it would be something fun to do," he said.

He's made some adjustments since getting married last year, like putting his old bar out to the curb to make way for his wife's dining room set. But his digs remain quintessentially dude-friendly, from the monster grill and outdoor fireplace to the pool table, power tools and beer-stocked fridge that displace cars in his garage.

A late January MEATing at his home was among the first in South Carolina, though about a dozen other Palmetto Staters also have signed up to be advisors, said Sam Krause, a Man Cave spokeswoman.

Dickinson's wife lurked somewhere in the house that night, but she kept herself well-hidden as his friends sipped beers while discussing all things man.

"I told her 'You don't have to leave, but you may wish you had,' " he laughed.

More than a dozen friends showed up, most unsure of what to expect.

"When he said Man Cave, I thought Kemper had gone and built a little room on the house," Brian O'Shea of Mount Pleasant said. "I've never seen anything like this. It's like a Tupperware party for men."

On his wife's dining room table, Dickinson displayed catalogues and a smattering of Man Cave merchandise.

Among the featured items were non-stick kabob skewers and the ever-popular "Bacon Beast," a stainless-steel, A-frame contraption that cooks an entire slab of bacon while channeling grease into side gutters. Catalogues offered additional must-haves, such as 30 different flavors of bratwurst and a remote-controlled beer pager, which unleashes a belch and lights up to help a thirsty owner find his wayward can of suds.

Taped to a dining room mirror was a poster containing "Man Laws" such as "no man shall ever turn down free beer ... for any reason" and "a man purse is still a purse."

No one bought anything, but several expressed interest in making a purchase. It was clear they had a good time, though. You could hear some belches all the way from the garage.