It doesn’t get much better than this: a great seafood dinner, a waterfront view, a stroll along the pier and a drink at a dockside bar. The scores of visitors at Shem Creek every night are testament to the fun and flavor that the iconic site — dotted with local haunts that spotlight all that was mentioned above — offers.
However, it’s a far different scene than the one there some 50 years ago. Back then there was only one restaurant on the creek. That didn’t really matter because that one was an instant classic, and it was the Lorelei. There were no fish tacos, seafood towers or oyster sliders. There was no such thing in those days. Instead, the menu was basic local seafood, most everything fried, of course. The restaurant’s specialties, the fish stew and crab dip, came with every meal. That popular appetizer is the thing that kept everyone talking about it long after the visit.
Shockingly, there was no outside dining — and not much of a view – just a few paned windows providing a glimpse of the shrimp boats passing through the creek. The real view was of a mural on the dining room wall entitled “The Song of the Lorelei,” depicting the mythical siren whose enchanting song lured homesick sailors into the ocean’s depths.
The restaurant stood about where the Shem Creek Inn is now, boasting only 20 small tables draped with red-and-white checkered tablecloths. It was a small concrete block structure built years earlier as a bunkhouse for fishermen whose boats were moored in the creek. None of the fishing charters, luxury yachts or kayak rentals that rest there today were part of the scene. The only watercraft on the creek were the dozens of shrimp trawlers, usually two or three abreast, at times numbering close to a hundred. The only visitors were folks coming to buy fresh seafood to cook at home. In fact, it was Mount Pleasant Seafood owners, Walter and Lillian Toler, who conceived the Lorelei Restaurant 15 years after opening their fish market.
Local restaurateur Ronnie Boals purchased the establishment in 1970 and operated it for about 10 years, until it was demolished to make space for the hotel and another restaurant he built.
Boals remembered, “The Lorelei was a quaint little place; it wasn’t big at all. It was one of my favorites of all the restaurants I owned over my 60 years in the business.”
The parking lot was never crowded, but the abundance of parking didn’t mean the restaurant wasn’t packed. It was. After all, it was that good.
Charleston native Roxanne LeaMond recalled, “The air was different then. Eating out was a special event. Today, it doesn’t have the same feel. The Lorelei was truly a locals-only place. And it was just good food.”
Like the sweet song of the siren, the beloved Lorelei Seafood Restaurant has faded into what seems like a dream now, one that many old-timers still enjoy when lying down their heads at night.
By Mary Coy
Shem Creek offers waterfront activities, picturesque views of its marshes and the Charleston Harbor, a boardwalk, as well as a park and many restaurants. Dive in and read about this Mount Pleasant, SC gem and all of the yummy treats it has to offer.