Three Citadel graduates have reopened Big John’s Tavern at 251 East Bay St., where former owner John “Big John” Canady served cadets and locals alike from 1955-1990, when he sold the local-favorite dive. Big John’s closed in 2015 after a devastating fire and was later transformed into Cane Rhum Bar, which closed in 2020.
Owners Christopher Houston (‘03), Scotty Sheriff (‘01) and Darren Bradley (‘89) frequented Big John’s while attending the Citadel. While they want to offer the same friendly service that was synonymous with Big John’s, they’ve curated a space that’s a little less divey than the original.
“When we saw an opportunity to resurrect it, we just wanted to take that opportunity and do the best for keeping the essence of Big John’s but also doing something to elevate the street,” Houston said.
The updated decor features hints from the past, like replica barstools and Citadel graduates’ nametags that were salvaged after the fire. Eventually, the space will feature a blown-up John Canady football card — the former bar owner was a New York Giants linebacker from 1947-1954 and is a member of the South Carolina Athletic Hall of Fame.
“We wanted to make sure to be respectful but still bring it up to where Charleston is with the cocktail scene,” Sheriff said.
That meant curating a cocktail list featuring not one, but two, riffs on the classic old fashioned and four martinis. In total, the list features 16 craft cocktails, joining a local-heavy selection of draft beers.
Chef William Sherrod (Revival, Tavern & Table, Fleet Landing) presides over the Big John’s kitchen, where he’s churning out “Southern elevated pub fare.” Look for a hot-chicken sandwich, smash burger, country fried steak and “clothesline bacon” — thick slabs of candied bacon that are torched tableside.
“We know the [Big John’s] slogan is ‘Come as a stranger, leave as a friend,’ so we’re trying to put that into the whole food part,” Sherrod said.
Big John’s Tavern is open daily from 4 p.m.-2 a.m., and the trio plans to add lunch soon. And that’s not the only addition on the horizon at the 66-year-old bar.
According to Sheriff, an attached room where Canady would allow underaged cadets to indulge in a beer or two will soon be home to one of Charleston’s only true speakeasy-style bars. Dubbed “Scotty Doesn’t Know” (for all the EuroTrip fans out there), the bar next door will serve Champagne, classic cocktails and light bites when it opens later this year.