In the span of just a few years, Bar Rollins went from a hopeful hypothetical to a living, breathing wine bar. And though his proprietary role is a new one, co-owner Chris Rollins has always been a consummate host.
For years prior to the bar’s opening, the Charleston native and his wife, photographer Lizzy Rollins, were known to throw regular dinner parties at their Wagener Terrace home. Around a long wooden table, guests from various circles would dig into dishes family-style, filling their glasses with natural wine from the likes of Monarch and Graft. The premise was simple, and not entirely unlike the scene at the newly opened bar — good wine, good company and hosts with genuine enthusiasm for bringing people together.
Today, Bar Rollins delivers a similar brand of hospitality. The bar is focused on natural wine, a growing movement toward organic or biodynamic grapes cultivated without chemicals and minimal intervention in the cellar. With 10 or so bottles on nightly rotation, the Jackson Street haunt also serves a limited menu of savory snacks, including Butcher & Bee baguettes with butter and whipped Counter Cheese Caves sheep’s milk cheese with potato chips for dipping. Throughout the space, patrons rub elbows at cozy, candlelit tables, and from behind the bar, the staff give enthusiastic endorsements of the evening’s selections.
So how did Rollins go from a casual aficionado to the owner of Charleston’s latest hotspot? It began in part with an Instagram account, started in jest nearly three years ago. The couple posted about what they were drinking at home, whether alone on their porch or surrounded by friends. Hints often accompanied the posts suggesting that “Bar Rollins” might someday become something real.
“We started telling people we were going to do it, mostly as a joke,” Rollins said. In the fall of 2019, however, the couple visited the wine bar Chambre Noir during a trip to Paris, and something shifted. “We talked to who I assumed was the bartender, but turned out to be the owner, Oliver,” he said. “This guy was in his early 20s, and he owned this amazing bar. I assumed you had to be like 60 and a millionaire to own anything. It hit me then that this could be attainable for someone who was young, or didn’t come from money.”
A mutual friend connected Rollins in early 2020 to Jess Vande Werken, the designer and brand strategist who would soon become his business partner. “Lizzy and I had this idea, and it turned out Jess had been thinking about something similar,” Rollins said. Just as the duo was feeling some momentum, the pandemic hit, putting their plans for a real-life bar on hold. Still, the Instagram account stayed active with updates on the bottle du jour, and eventually, rumblings of something exciting to come.
“When vaccines started happening, we started thinking about hosting a pop-up,” Rollins said. “Our friend Evan Gaudreau (the 2019 James Beard Foundation Award semifinalist for Rising Star Chef of the Year) offered to do it with us, and it just kind of spiraled from there.”
That first event, hosted at babas on cannon in April 2021, was a huge hit, drawing upwards of 200 people — a shock to the Bar Rollins crew. “We did not expect anything like that,” Rollins laughed. “That energy just kind of kept going, one pop-up after another.”
Several wildly successful events later, held at spots like Munkle Brewing Co. and The Daily, news broke in January that Bar Rollins would be opening a brick and mortar on the Eastside. The space, conceived with help from local architects and designers Evan Smith González and Diego A. González, drew inspiration from bars the owners had visited and loved, from New York and Asheville, N.C. to Paris and Copenhagen.
As far as the pitfalls of first-time business ownership, the team cites a solid support system. “In Charleston, there’s a great community of people to lean on when you have questions,” Rollins said. “Being able to look to other bars and wine shops and restaurants has helped so much.”
Rollins is behind the bar most nights these days, relishing his new role. “The reason you get into this is really to teach others about it, to share it,” he said. “We love hosting people, and we love natural wine, so having a space to do both is the dream.”
While a far cry from its jocular origins, there’s still a good-natured ease to Rollins’ approach. “We’re trying not to take ourselves too seriously,” he said. “For now, we just hope people keep coming out, drinking good wine and filling the seats.”
Bar Rollins is located at 194 Jackson St. Open Thurs.–Mon. 4-10 p.m. Instagram: @barrollins.
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