Arts was originally a little beach house, built between a general store built by Wink Davis and the original Kitty Hawk volunteer firehouse on the beach road.
Next to the Kitty Hawk firehouse was the Saltair Motel which stretched across the beach road and had a dozen rooms on the beach, long since since blown away. Across the street from Winks was the Virginia Dare Hardware store which is now the exclusive Ocean Boulevard restaurant.
This little area was the center of Kitty Hawk all built in the 1940s and early 50s, what we now refer to as Downtown Kitty Hawk.
Art had worked in the restaurant business for years and came down to visit his brother and immediately fell in love with rough and tumble outer banks - the graveyard of the Atlantic. Kitty Hawk had been the center for rescue of hundreds of wrecks off the coast.
In 1978 Art opened his little joint that served breakfast and lunch, sold bait and fishing gear. Two local entrepreneurs, John Lancaster & Paul Schaffer, who had come down from Virginia and built the Black Pelican restaurant and Barrier Island timeshares gave him a helping hand.
Art's Place was busy and Art was a soft touch for anyone who needed a meal. In the off season many local residents found themselves in dire straits and Art and his friend & partner Bill Askew started the Joy Fund to help the less fortunate have a good Christmas. They got the outer banks fire departments involved and the Joy Fund provided an off seasonal event that benefited hundreds of outer banks families.
In 2001 Art was awarded the highest NC civil award, The Order of the Long Leaf Pine, given to such famous people like Kenny Rogers, Curtis Strange, Ted Williams, Tennessee Williams, Oprah Winfrey, Tammy Wynette etc.
In 2007 Art was ill and unable to continue and Tammy Nichols who would come to eat on the front porch as often as possible thought she could revive the business. In 2008 Tammy began operating Arts. Art would come in and introduce Tammy to his customers and offer all the help he could until his death in 2010.
The squat building is scarcely as big as a pair of double-wide trailers squished together. It sits on the beach road, its worn porch facing the sea, with only N.C. Highway 12’s narrow band of asphalt and a row of oceanfront houses holding back the wilds of the Atlantic.
Arts had an old trailer in the backyard that we used as a band stage.
We wanted to do something unique, provide a venue that controlled the direction of the sound and made our musicians feel we cared. Money is always an issue and as we passed a farm we noticed an old silo that had a couple of sections missing and a light went off.
We had our engineer, House engineering, put a plan together and get the Town to approve it. We then drove into farm country, Pine Tops NC, and a local farmer sold us one, took it apart and we brought it back to Kitty Hawk.
The silo helps focus our sound toward the back yard and helps prevent surrounding residents from getting overwhelmed.
The Sway Bar
Our little 60 year old building did not provide us with enough space to expand. In addition any expansion would require bringing the entire structure into current code.
We are in a flood zone as well. We have been very lucky as water has never flooded into the building which we can say has been assisted as sand has piled up in front and created a barrier for us. We have a picture of us digging a path to the front door after Hurricane Sandy came through.
Bryan Seawell at House Engineering came up with an idea of constructing a building over Arts and we found ways to get approval to put pilings in 16 feet deep and insure the Sway Bar was not attached to the original structure.
The view is classic and worth the 31 steps it takes to get up there. We have a full bar and steamer serving large shrimp & crab legs as well as our world famous burgers.
The Sway Bar was designed to withstand hurricane winds which required it move with the wind ever so slightly - it does not sway, much.
Spend an evening at Art’s Place, and you’ll see a cross section of the Kitty Hawk community bound up the short staircase and through the screen door. Two elementary-school age children sit at the bar, watching the action at the grill. A singer-songwriter with a scruffy, salt-and-pepper beard strums his guitar and croons a Gordon Lightfoot song up front. A gray-haired couple in their 60s orders the nightly special while a quartet of 30-somethings cheer on the action on the big screen on the wall.
It takes more than meat to create a great hamburger, though, and Art’s Place offers lots more. Everything that goes into this elemental meal drips with the sincerity of the place itself: the crisp-on-the-outside, soft-on-the-inside, hand-cut fries; the slippery, sweet fried onions; the homemade chili. On top, the fluffy kaiser-roll pinwheels are soft, but the toasted undersides give them the heft to handle the juicy meat and gooey cheeses and chili, keeping everything together until the moment the burger meets your mouth.
We love finding new and eccentric decor items to add to our property. Each one has a story and means something to us in one way or another. We love to make your visit to Art's more than a meal; we want it to be an experience! We hope you enjoy walking around our building and taking in all of the elements we have added to make your visit as fun and laid back as possible. Thank you for continueing to make Art's a destination in the Outer Banks!