It always looks like the dead of night inside Moe’s Crosstown. The seminal dive is all blackened windows, aluminum Budweiser decor, and plastic Bud Light napkin holders displaying A1 bottles. Behind the bar, a red neon sign spells out MOE’S like a homing beacon. It might as well be perpetual midnight here — with one exception.
For four hours on Tuesday evening, this place is lit.
Half price burger night at Moe’s is an institution almost as much as the bar itself — or the Charleston Strong mural that’s the first thing you’ll see upon emerging from the darkness, richer in calories and only slightly poorer in pocketbook than when you arrived. Every Tuesday in owner Mike Tronoski’s memory since 2000 has been a burger night.
“We’ve got guys on the line that have been doing burger night for probably 10 years,” says kitchen manager Tres Penland, who started at Moe’s 12 years ago and has never known a time without half-price burgers. “They’ve got their system down.”
On an average Friday, Moe’s serves around 70 burgers; on Tuesday that number jumps to 170. Out of the 1,000 pounds of ground beef this kitchen grills every month, burger nights alone could easily outweigh every weekend.
Tuesdays at Moe’s are so iconic that a patron who relocated to D.C. once booked a last-minute flight to Charleston on Tuesday and flew back to work Wednesday morning wearing a change of clothes bought at the North Charleston Target. The meal, she claims, was worth it.
For the four workers squeezed inside Moe’s 350-square-foot kitchen though, burger night looks slightly different.
Four guys; four hours; 170 burgers; 75 seats. That’s one hell of a grill-to-mouth ratio, not to mention fried tomatoes, crisped bacon, fresh mozzarella, and fried eggs. The simplest of Moe’s eight signature burgers comes with a bright blast of barbecue sauce and cheddar. Between the artsy goat cheese and roasted poblano option, bleu cheese and hot sauce Buffalo burger, and the pimento cheese-covered Rutledge burger — this is not an In-N-Out situation. More than once a patron has requested “one with everything,” both Penland and Tronoski recall, grimacing at the thought of that 23-topping burger teetering with ham, jalapeños, pimento cheese, and banana peppers.
“No one ever has any down time,” says Penland, who stays out of the kitchen on Tuesdays and leaves that work to the time-tested burger pros.
Moe’s grillmaster has one job: grill. Orders catapult across the closet-sized kitchen like hot sizzling oil, from the bartenders ticket to the plater’s lips to the grillmaster’s brain in about the time it takes to drop a basket in the fryer. On the grill, a small armada of burgers moves plateward while the remaining two workers prep sides and fry fries with an efficiency that would make Mad Dog Mattis drool. All this on counter space smaller than the bar’s billiards table.
“We’ve had nights where the computer goes out right at seven and we’re trying to work a full restaurant on hand-written tickets,” says Penland with the tone of someone recalling a childhood trauma. “That is a nightmare.”
At precisely 6:50 p.m. every Tuesday the three bartenders, who double as servers, take orders. The bacon is warmed; the tomatoes are fryer-ready; 10 fresh eggs are cracked on the grill, just waiting; the wait list is solidifying, too. The only thing that’s not cooked to order is the bacon, because “that would be crazy,” says Penland.
When the tables fill, you eat your burger standing.
Burger night must go on — blown gas lights, downed computers, and fritzing fryers be damned. Owner Tronoski once made a desperate run to the neighborhood Staples for a cartridge when the ticket printer went down on a Tuesday. Because if anything is sacred in this place, it is a bacon and egg-topped burger.
“This neighborhood has changed a lot,” says Pendland. Since the current owners took over Moe’s in 1998, reinventing the menu from pork chops and tuna entrees to pub fare, Charleston has seen burger nights pop up like avocado toast and Rutledge Avenue reinvent itself from the wrong side of Spring to the home of a dove-laden Charleston Strong mural.
Moe’s will celebrate 19 years on Saturday, November 18.
“My numbers guy has been advising me for years to stop burger night because it doesn’t make sense when you look at the money,” says Tronoski. “But I just can’t.”
Here’s hoping that burger night holds strong for at least another decade of dark, divey Tuesdays lit up by the promise of half-price Eye Opener Burgers. And here’s to those four kitchen denizens who make molten cheese and onion rings that nearly sparkle in the neon glow of Moe’s bar sign.
Random Moe’s Crosstown Burger Facts
• On an average Friday customers order
70 burgers; on an average Burger Night they order 170.
• Usually Burger Nights range from 100 to 250 burgers.
• Moe’s kitchen is 350 square feet, “and that is being a bit generous,” says owner Mike Tronoski.
• By 2000, two years after taking over Moe’s, the current owners started half-price burger night.
• The most popular specialty burgers (in order) are the Rutledge Burger, BLT Burger, and Eye Opener.
• Once a customer ordered a double patty with everything — that’s 23 toppings, including 10 cheeses, and would cost around $24 on a regular night.
• The grill is set up to have a hotter side for well done burgers and a cooler side for rare.
• Fries and chips are cut daily and soaked in vinegar water to make them extra crispy.