The big movement of late has been pre-Prohibition cocktails. Seriously, who the heck knew what a Sazerac was before last year? Now, the bitters-laden cocktail that was invented in New Orleans in the 1830s is cropping up on cocktail menus at some of the more progressive places in town. It will even serve as the name of Sean Brock’s newest restaurant, set to open in the fall.

So, it’s exciting to see MariElena and Joe Raya hopping onto this hot trend with The Gin Joint, their new venture which is replacing Robert’s of Charleston. The two have been running Robert’s for many years, but now that MariElena’s dad has retired, the food and beverage veterans have the opportunity to strike out on their own, pursuing a brand-new concept, which they first hit upon a year or so ago. Since then, they’ve been traveling around the country, exploring serious cocktail bars to see how it’s best done.

On the new restaurant’s website, they outline their plans, explain their concept, and chronicle the complete renovation of the space at 182 East Bay St.

Joe says they want the vibe to be completely unpretentious, and they’re focused on creating a communal atmosphere where people stop by, sit at the massive 12-foot butcherblock community table, and order snacks and small plates for sharing.

Ultimately, they hope to provide Charleston a casual place for serious drinks and food, “a place that would evoke a 1920s appreciation towards spirits while still offering classically prepared food in the forms of snacks and plates.”

On the site, they write: “We want customers who feel passionately about the craft of mixing drinks, the art of cooking, and the pleasure of combining the two with close company in a comfortable atmosphere.”

The menu, crafted by the Culinary Institute of America-trained MariElena, is big on creativity with rich snacks like “foie by the (1/12 ) foot,” duck hearts, and peat-smoked Berkshire dogs with onion marmalade. And those are just a few of the snacks. The plates include seafood sausage, “pig in a pot,” pheasant pot pie, truffle poached egg in parmesan broth, and grilled asparagus caesar.

“At Robert’s, we were limited to the classics,” says Joe. “So, here, we wanted to take the classics and reinterpret them into something more casual. Foie gras torchons as bar snack.”

Cheeses and sweets get their own place on the menu with pont l’eveque, mimolette, thome, and a “Roaring Forties Blue.” Then there’s the white chocolate pretzel bar, chocolate mousse with sea salt, a polenta olive oil cake, and the housemade “Lil Debbie” snacks.

The space on East Bay is undergoing a complete overhaul, with a bar handcrafted from Sapele wood and the installation of a Kold-Draft ice machine.

Say what?

Yes, you can expect The Gin Joint to win Best Ice Cube in next year’s Best of Charleston with the three different types of ice they’ll be using behind the bar. Joe says they took the idea from a favorite bar in New York, but they did so because it speaks to the proper technique of making a cocktail.

“In the kitchen, they have lots of rules they follow, paying close attention to details,” he says. “But at bars, anything goes. We’re going to stay true to the technique for making a sling, julep, fizz, or sizzle.”

To that end, the ice will serve the drink, meaning different drinks will have different types of ice. The Kold-Draft machine makes large cubes of ice that are crystal clear and slow to melt. They’ll also be using large blocks of ice in conjunction with molds, like the Taisin Ice Ball Mold, a Japanese invention that molds ice into an enormous two-inch sphere that ends up looking like a beautiful crystal as it keeps your drink cold without watering it down. They’ll also have freshly crushed ice for those juleps and the like.

Sounds like Joe and MariElena are very serious about their new venture. We can’t wait to check it out when they open in August. We’ll keep you posted when the time comes, but in the meantime, head to their blog if you want to keep tabs on their progress.

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