Photo by Rūta Smith

Shared Space

The partners behind King Street hotspot Uptown Social are finalizing plans for their newest venture that will bring big-city-bar vibes and all-day fare to another massive downtown building. Starting in 2021, the 8,000 square-foot space that was once a train depot will be home to two new restaurants: Share House and Bodega. 

“We had just been thinking in general about what our next opportunities would be in Charleston, and we wanted a place similar in size and scope to Uptown Social,” said partner Keith Benjamin, who stumbled on the former railroad buildings between Ann and John streets in 2019, not long after a separate multi-restaurant project there proved unsuccessful. “The bones were really set up in a way that we knew we had a really special place here.” 

The new-look complex will include two separate restaurants. Bodega will specialize in the colossal, Manhattan-style breakfast sandwiches chef Alec Gropman has served since Uptown Social launched it as a pop-up in July. Share House, which Benjamin described as “bright and airy with a coastal cantina vibe,” will serve cocktails, local draft beers and a seafood-forward lunch and dinner menu. Gropman will depart Uptown Social to lead the culinary program at both eateries.

“Having lived near the water my entire life, I’ve always had a passion for seafood,” Gropman said. “Share House will be a celebration of all things local seafood with food and flavors that are generated from coasts all over America.” 

Gropman plans to serve dishes like tuna poke nachos, crab cakes and sliders on house-made Hawaiian rolls. All menu items will be available a la carte to encourage casual dining, Gropman said.

“The a la carte ordering system is meant to almost be a riff on old school sushi restaurants where you walk in and the full menu is on a card and you can write exactly how much of each product you want,” he said. “With that same vision, we’ll have this large a la carte slider menu with all of these beautiful seafood sliders and vegetarian options.” 

At Bodega, the current weekend menu will be expanded and guests can order Instagram-able sandwiches highlighting house-made ingredients. Bodega will stay open all day, offering up to a dozen cocktails that will pair with a nighttime menu featuring charcuterie, tartare and more. One side of Bodega will be dedicated to coffee and breakfast, and the other will be geared toward a nighttime crowd. 

“Bodega is going to go from this really fun sandwich concept to an opportunity where we’ll have an incredible coffee program and our sandwiches that we’ve become really famous for take us through breakfast and lunch service,” Benjamin said. “We’ll have a coworking space with Wi-Fi for people to just kind of camp out all day.” 

Share House will occupy the side closer to Ann Street, and upcoming upgrades and renovations will create an open layout featuring new garage doors facing out toward the Children’s Museum, giving the restaurant an indoor-outdoor flow onto its patio.

The structure’s past and present are tied to Charleston’s railway system. Originally constructed in 1850 by the South Carolina Rail Road Company, the building operated as the terminus for the Charleston-Camden line. In the future, the Lowcountry Lowline planned along the former railroad corridor downtown could run as far south as Bodega and Share House.

Uptown Social partners Keith Benjamin, Kara Graves, Bryn Kelly, Brian Dodd and Kat Moore aren’t the first New York transplants to try a multi-part restaurant complex in the 23 Ann Street building. In 2016, Damon Wise and Jonathan Buckley opened Scarecrow & Co., which consisted of three restaurants: Scarecrow, Feathertop and Wise-Buck Smoked Meats. 

Wise-Buck lasted just five months, and Feathertop was eventually folded into Scarecrow before it closed in September 2017. The project’s last gasp, South Seas Oasis tiki bar, closed in January 2019. 

Benjamin feels they can bring life to the area like they did with Uptown Social, which bookended a strip of upper King Street bars and restaurants when it opened in 2018. Bryn Kelly and Brian Dodd will manage the day-to-day operations at Share House and Bodega, with Benjamin overseeing the group’s three Charleston restaurants. 

“We’ll take what Alec does and combine that with what we do in terms of our nightlife component and we’ll bring that here,” Benjamin said. “The Share House concept is going to be similar but certainly not identical to Uptown Social.” 

“I grew up in New York, and everyone gets ‘share houses’ for the summer where you and your friends chip in and get a house in the Hamptons or the Jersey Shore,” said Dodd, who came up with the name for Share House shortly after moving to Charleston to help lead the new project. 

The restaurant is being configured with the pandemic in mind, but the group is excited about the property’s post-COVID-19 potential. Benjamin anticipates Share House and Bodega will open in late spring or early summer of 2021. 

“It’s really kind of the perfect space for us to have coming out of the pandemic,” Benjamin said. “I think when you walk into this place, you’ll truly feel that you’re in a beach town.” 

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