You might think that a couple of Irish guys would take a look at a King Street location and open a pub where one could get “your usual pint of Guinness and a shot of Jameson.” But entrepreneur James Walsh had a different vision.
He and his best friend, Jim McCourt, created Prohibition to pay homage to the history they saw all around them in Charleston. This month, it’s celebrating its 10th anniversary. And the popular bar has been a success, they say, because they ignored hordes of scantily clad bachelorettes roaming King Street and focused instead on the over-25 crowd.
“We saw a niche in the market for cocktails and quality food,” Walsh said. “There were a lot of college bars on King Street at that time, so we decided to really focus on quality and a slightly older demographic.”
Besides, there was already an Irish bar next door, or at least a bar with Irish pretensions.
“There was a guy who owned O’Malley’s next door, but it just had a big shamrock in the window and a very young crowd. It wasn’t authentic,” Walsh said.
Instead, Walsh and McCourt brought in chef Greg Garrison and offered “white tablecloth food without the white tablecloths” — food that went beyond the standard bar fare of burgers and wings. They also offered entertainment.
“Back in the day, we noticed a lot of restaurants were wrapping up at 11 p.m., and we decided there’s a lot of people, especially on weekends, who want to continue to party on, so we made a decision to transition later from a restaurant experience to a nightlife experience,” McCourt said.
A top-shelf bar program
They modeled that transition on bars in which they’d both worked in New York, where they’d met and roomed together while working in food and beverage. Walsh, lured by the vacancy on King Street, arrived first in Charleston and soon coaxed McCourt to join him and start the beverage program that would grow to include what the pair say is the most extensive list of whiskeys in the city.
McCourt said he made a conscious attempt to include women in his bar program, something that was relatively rare a decade ago.
“There are a lot of bars that have mixologists with fancy mustaches, and they are very pretentious. I wanted to make it feel warm and comfortable and safe — more approachable and more fun,” McCourt said.
During the years, Prohibition also has offered a ramen program in partnership with Two Nixons’ Jeffrey Stoneberger; swing dancing lessons with a live band; wine pairings with chef Garrison; and this month, a blindfolded dinner experience, Dining in the Dark.
“We always try to do events that keep us relevant and educate the locals and people who buy tickets to events,” Walsh said.
The blindfolded event is new to them, managed by an external company that will work with Garrison. Diners who buy tickets will be escorted to one of the bar’s three sections and then are blindfolded, and they’re reliant on their other senses to appreciate the multi-course dinner.
Walsh and McCourt are expanding to Columbia late this fall with a new Prohibition and, after a decade of ignoring their Belfast roots, the two are partnering to open an Irish bar next door to Prohibition in 2024. Needless to say, Walsh said, it won’t merely have a big shamrock in the window.
Tickets to the Dining in the Dark event are $90 and can be obtained at feverup.com/m/134907. There will be two seatings at 6 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.
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