One of the most treasured establishments in Nags Head was the dance hall and recreation center, the Nags Head Casino. Built in the early 1930s, it was later purchased by Ras Wescott, who ran the venerable institution for nearly 40 years.
The two-story white wooden building featured duck pin bowling, pinball machines, pool tables and a snack bar on the lower level. Upstairs was a huge wooden dance floor that was waxed with bowling alley wax to keep it sleek and smooth. At one end was a long bar, where Pabst Blue Ribbon was always a favorite.
During the 1940s and 1950s the Big Bands played at the Casino, drawing crowds from neighboring communities of Currituck, Elizabeth City, Plymouth and Columbia. It was more or less the most active social center for young people in northeastern North Carolina. During World War II, the Casino was a favorite hangout for servicemen on liberty looking for a little fun and excitement. On Saturday nights there was a 50-cent cover charge for the fellows, while the ladies got in free.
The Nags Head Casino could easily hold over 1,000 people, and when such crowds gathered and began to dance, the entire floor would sway. Louis Armstrong played to a packed house in 1958. Artie Shaw, Woody Herman, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, and others all played the happening nightspot. A Wurlitzer Jukebox supplied the music some nights, its flashing colors spilling onto the dance floor.
It took a crew to run such an operation, and Ras employed many locals who recall his fatherly nature as well as his generosity. With so much partying going on however, Ras needed to keep a well-trained supply of bouncers on hand, lest things get out of control. Stories are told of Wescott blowing a whistle when things looked like they were taking a bad turn, and immediately his bouncers would appear and clear up any trouble
Although times and popular music changed, the Casino continued to draw crowds in the 1960s and 1970s when bands like Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs and the Hot Nuts played for dancers who no longer Jitterbugged, but opted for the Twist or the Shag. Ras wasn’t fond of the trend for men to wear their hair long, and if a guest was not willing to cut his hair, he was banished to a spot behind the building that was dubbed Monkey World.
The Nags Head Casino was a place to take a date, or to meet someone new. Some couples who met and courted at the Casino, later went on to marry. Its location on the Beach Road in front of Jockey’s Ridge gave young lovers a private place to escape for a romantic walk while the sounds of the music drifted into the warm summer night.
Wescott sold the building in the 1970s. It suffered damage in the Ash Wednesday Storm of 1962, and after a winter storm in the mid 1970s the roof collapsed. Jockey’s Ridge Crossing now occupies the site of the beloved Casino.