Your Marine Corps

You won’t believe what’s happening to the iconic Driftwood Lounge outside Camp Lejeune

For some driving down Highway 24 in Jacksonville, North Carolina, the off-white exterior and nondescript sign of this business would hardly have warranted a second look.

But when, last week, the sign for the Driftwood Lounge went down, collective gasps and virtual tears rippled across the internet.

The Driftwood, since 1979, has been the place many a 2nd Marine Division boot chased hazy dreams after finishing engineer school, returning from the field or just to grab cheap beers on a week night for a relief from life on Camp Lejeune.

The thumping music, flashing lights and strange combined scent of cheap perfume, the ubiquitous strip-club lotion smell found in all corners of the globe, and other unidentifiable odors mark the memories of many a Marine who spent time in the swampy home of the 2nd Marine Division.

It was the place to mark a promotion, birthday, engagement, birth of a child or that oh-so-glorious day of exiting the Corps.

Who are we kidding? There was no excuse needed to visit the ladies of the Driftwood. A random Tuesday would suffice.

Strip clubs come and strip clubs go. They dot the highways and byways of nearly every military town. But for those happy few Devil Dogs in this place where the Corps calls home, the Driftwood was different.

And its doors were not open exclusively to Marines. Soldiers, sailors, airmen, heck we have no doubt a Coastie or two might have even graced its confines for a night of revelry while at the base for training or simply passing through.

It may be one of the best examples of transfer of wealth since Karl Marx espoused his communist philosophy. Money flowing from the government to Marines to dancers.

With the recent passing of legend of a different sort, Gunnery Sgt. R. Lee Ermey of “Full Metal Jacket” fame, one online commentator had a theory:

Oh, there were higher class clubs of ill repute within a short drive of the base, but the Driftwood held a special charm of mismatched wallpaper, modest maintenance priorities and a stage that might be older than your dad but you didn’t want to ask.

So, we here at Marine Corps Times asked for you.

Turns out, despite the typically reliable rumor web of social media, there was no fire, no explosion, the Driftwood didn’t go out of business.

It has transformed for a new era of more discerning night club clientele.

It’s navy blue exterior paint job and sign sporting stainless steel “Platinum Gentlemen’s Club” are markers of new management and a new approach to serving the nighttime needs of nearby jarheads.

Joshua Crumpler and two co-owners purchased the club in December and began interior renovations ― new carpet, furniture, dance stage and bar. They’ve added a state-of-the-art light system and staffed the place with nearly all active duty or military veteran managers and security.

Gone is the mismatched wallpaper that dizzied beer-filled Marines. Instead, a regal purple now adorns the cleaned-out club.

Crumpler got his share of criticism for changing the name of the club that has stood for nearly 40 years.

“If you look at the stuff online, half of the people were upset,” Crumpler said. “The other half, they’re happy.”

It was an immediate reaction when the sign went down last weekend, he said.

“We had to change the name,” Crumpler said. “Things have changed quite a bit.”

Without pointing to specific establishments, the co-owner said the general treatment of Marines in Jacksonville can be a bit testy by local business owners.

He aims to treat said Marines with a little more respect.

But, it is a nighttime venue. If folks act up, they will be asked to leave, he said. There are rules.

He wants to focus on customer service, greeting patrons at the door, communicating throughout their experience.

“We’re running this place completely differently than any club,” Crumpler said. He’s a lifelong resident of the area and his father, other relatives and one of the three co-owners are military veterans.

Though, if one online commentator is correct, the old place had its way of connecting with customers.

And his methods are proving out in some hard data.

When they took over in December, the club rarely saw triple digit attendance on Saturday, the busiest night of the week. Now, Crumpler says, more than 100 patrons are common and in recent weeks they’ve been seeing up to 300 clients each Saturday night.

Some wondered if the new owner might mean a fresh start for past customers.

He shared what might not be common knowledge of the establishment’s history.

The business has been owned and operated by the same family since 1979. Before becoming a topless bar, it served sandwiches and other food snacks to hungry Marines on their way in and out of the main gate.

Crumpler said there wasn’t any special occaision to mark the official name change.

But at least a few online have their own ideas.

He does have one regret.

The old stage did have the Driftwood name emblazoned on it. He had planned to save that item of local history for the previous owner but somehow in the renovations it was tossed along with other scrap.

Which is too bad because one long-ago customer has an idea that could preserve the place forever in Marine Corps lore.

But, despite complaints, the business is trucking along. Even through major renovations it has been open every day since December. And there are no plans to close, well except for one day.

“We took over in December, been open nonstop,” Crumpler said. “But, we’ll probably be closed on Christmas.”

Yes Marine, there is a Santa Claus.

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