This next story comes to us from the “It’s Better to be Lucky than Good” department.
I spent a few days in Charleston last week. The trip was mostly business, but whenever I can get to Chucktown, I do my best to squeeze in a little bit of pleasure. This time was no different. I was a guest of South Carolina Tourism at an event they held bringing tourism officials from across the state to one location. It was great networking. I learned quite a bit about the Palmetto State and look forward sharing some of that fun down the road. After hours, though, my time is my own. I usually have a list of places I’d like to get to for either a bite to eat or a cocktail, but sometimes, I just let the wind carry me. This trip was a little of both.
After dinner, I found myself at Victor’s Social Club. A great spot downtown. Live music, munchies, a great bar staff and fantastic cocktails. From there I floated (not literally) down an alley way into what was supposed to be my last stop, at 39 Rue de Jean. Yes, the same one we have here in Savannah, but the original. It’s a great spot for late night glass of wine and conversation. At that bar, I got to chatting with a couple of guys who had just moved to Charleston from the Boston area. Soon after, the bartender joined in the chat. We talked about Boston, Charleston, Savannah, St. Patrick’s Day, The Grateful Dead and who knows what else. In the course of conversation, I heard one of them mention a bar they like called “Prohibition.” I caught the reaction of the other two and wondered, by their reaction, if this wasn’t a place I should know about. I grabbed my phone and threw it a google. Prohibition was visually quite impressive. At least it was in my phone. They had a very impressive food menu and some high quality photos of those dishes. I decided I’d take a beverage’s-worth of a peek and then call it a night. There was no chance I was going to eat, but I would at least take a peek and maybe put it on my list for my next trip to Charleston. It was only about 4 blocks away.
As I make my way down King Street, there was a significant police presence. There were also a bunch of twenty-somethings running in and out of bars in varying degrees of “Wednesday Night” if you will. Hey, I’m not judging, but I did wonder if this space I was looking for was just another jello shot, beer-tub-hottie-in-a-bikini-top type of saloon. The website didn’t indicate as such, but the neighborhood certainly did. Once I stepped inside, it was pretty clear I wasn’t in Kansas anymore.
I have a seat the bar, ask for a Kronenbourg 1664 (which I hadn’t seen on tap in a number of forevers) and take a look around. The visuals were pretty impressive. The wood was dark. The glow was yellow. The bar was tidy, the craft cocktail menu was impressive. The entire space had a ‘barrel’ look and feel. The name Prohibition wasn’t just something that was slapped on to a space on Upper King. There was a clear concept here. Every last detail was gorgeous. The more I looked around, the more I realized that. In less than 10 minutes I thought “Savannah could really use something like this.” A very few short minutes after that (again, I had been there no more than ten minutes) another older gentleman with a thick Irish accent walks up to pour himself a Guinness. He says hello and asks where I’m from. “I’m from Savannah.” I said.
The smiled washed off of his face about as fast as him being told his car was being towed for parking in a street sweeper zone. He leans over with a deadpan look on his face and asks if I work in the food and beverage industry. “Well, not really.” I said. Which clearly confused him. Truthfully, I thought he was a disgruntled employee looking for a job in Savannah. “Are you moving to Savannah?” I ask. “Yes.” he says, with a pause. “We are going to open a Prohibition Savannah.” Instantly, I was elated and said “I was just thinking Savannah could use a place like this.”
James Walsh came around from behind the bar with his Guinness and introduces himself to me as the owner. He also introduced me to one of his partners Ray Burns and his Bar Manager and partner Jim McCourt. You want to talk about kismet? I had a nice looking scoop on my hands and they were all chatting with someone who could give them a tiny bit of insight about the Savannah market. Where it has been, where we are now and where we hope to go. It turns out we have a couple of friends in common. We talked for a couple of hours.
“Greg is our chef.” James says. “He is obsessed with food. The day he met the staff here he said ‘hi my name is Greg and I love food. When I am not here, I dream about food.’ and he walked back to the kitchen.” It’s pretty obvious that chef Greg Garrison is serious about what he’d like to accomplish in the kitchen.
The menu in Charleston is pretty straight forward. Hummus, Fried Oysters, Fish Tacos and things of that sort on one side. Burgers, Roasted Chicken, Duck Confit and a Catch of the Day is part of the other side. The most expensive item on it is $22. James tells me while that can’t determine exactly what something will cost here in Savannah, that is the neighborhood they are operating in. Which I know will be well received. Especially if it is as good as they say it is.
No expense was spared on the space either. And I’m told it won’t be in Savannah. It is gorgeous. Impeccable lighting and a fantastic sound system. The ceiling in the back of this room is curved to look like the inside of a barrel. Live music sets up back there. I didn’t see any, but I could certainly see how it could all work. Their plan is to offer lunch, dinner and Sunday Brunch. It should be noted that they are equally as passionate about their cocktails as well. I could go on and on for pages, but suffice to say we discussed that as well and they are very serious about their bar program. You can get a pretentious-well made-craft cocktail if you’d like, but you can also choose from any number of beers and have a pint. They’ve won several awards in Charleston for their cocktail program, which is pretty tough to do. This is going to be good.
Frankly, I am almost as excited about how excited they are as anything else. Their concept in Charleston is clearly working and they are almost giddy about their next step here. And no, I haven’t forgotten to mention where. I’ve been asked not to say just yet. Some details yet to iron out, but it is coming downtown. Prohibition is not specifically an Irish bar or restaurant, but James, Ray and Jim absolutely pay homage to their heritage by boasting the largest selection of Irish whiskeys in the Southeast. They showed me a few. Told me how they got them. If it isn’t the largest, I’d like to see the collection that is. Quite ironic that just a month ago, I was at a party with some restaurant owners who said “Savannah could use a few more great bars.”
Clearly we are in the right place at the right time. They are hoping to be open by May.
See you on TV,