Visit one of the best dive bars in the country: The Fat Pelican on Carolina Beach

"Beer is Love"
Fishing pier at Carolina Beach...
Fishing pier at Carolina Beach... / John Greim/GettyImages

As places come and go throughout our lives, some are worth remembering while others are not. North Carolina is filled with fantastic destinations and experiences. Carolina Beach is a beach much like any other, except it has a unique bar that's even great if you don't drink. The Fat Pelican is a local landmark and star, having come in first place for best dive bar in the state of North Carolina and landed a spot on the top 25 dive bars in the nation in 2015 by Over the years, the Fat Pelican has remained, for the most part, the same while new developments sprang up all around it. If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

How it all began

The highly popular and very well-loved dive bar first came to be in 1986 when owner Jim Kelly brought the beast to life. However, the infamous dive bar and local hangout did not rush out from Kelly's imagination and onto the streets of Carolina Beach as a bar. The first chapter of The Fat Pelican found it dressed as a local wine and beer shop that was to compliment the Liquor Package store down the street.

Over time, The Fat Pelican began to stretch her wings and take flight as a local staple. After six very successful years operating side-by-side, the Liquor Package store moved, leaving The Fat Pelican to revamp herself. 1992 witnessed the first beer drank as the dive bar became an actual sit-inside and drink-on-premises authentic bar. From that moment forward, The Fat Pelican's charm and local importance began to grow.

The next chapter

Greetings from Carolina Beach, North Carolina
Greetings from Carolina Beach, North Carolina / Found Image Holdings Inc/GettyImages

In the dark, dingy, burned-down-garage-made-bar amongst the stolen traffic signs, thousands of signatures, and silly pictures drawn by drunken artists passing through the area, you will find a vibe that you can't pick up anywhere else. This is the kind of bar a person can walk into alone and have a really excellent time just looking at all the neat oddities customers have brought in and left at the bar over the 38+ years it has existed.

After owner Kelly got over his head in tax debt, then an interesting and somewhat legendary man by the name of Danny McLaughlin walked into his life. He had just left Food 4 Sound, a catering business serving traveling rock bands in the area, when he stumbled upon the news of The Fat Pelican in trouble and swooped in to save the bar. As The Fat Pelican's website tells, McLaughlin catered and toured with Van Halen, Aerosmith, The Rolling Stones, and Hank William Jr., to name a few. The nobleman also had been shot and fallen out of a helicopter during his two tours of the Vietnam War. He even supposedly had a mafia hitman after him in 2008. He was precisely what The Fat Pelican needed, and bar life improved substantially.

McLaughlin started throwing boozy parties for Halloween and other holidays. He held weekly bikini contests, which became quite popular on the island. But more than anything else, McLaughlin created a place where everyone feels safe to be there. He built all of the unique furniture himself, put the refrigerated semi-trailer that Kelly had previously purchased for $2,000, and made it a walk-in cooler with every kind of beer you can dream of inside. People could walk into the wine store-made bar and, after showing their ID, pick out any beer they want and bring it to the bartender to pop open. A cold beer, some great company from the locals, as many stories as you want to hear from McLaughlin, and a big smile make The Fat Pelican the best dive bar out there.