Word first started spreading Sunday afternoon on Facebook with cryptic status updates like, “No more V downtown. Let’s grab a last drink there tonight” and “RIP Vickery’s. May all the employees find fast and lucrative opportunities.”
It seemed unreal — could Vickery’s really be closing? — until we heard Jason Stalker’s last call speech for ourselves on Sunday night. Stalker, a fixture behind the bar at the downtown institution, gave a rousing talk to a saddened and stunned crowd stocked with longtime F&B friends from Fulton Five, Charleston Place, and the Mills House: “We had the best fucking run here.”
Stalker’s dad Jim, one of the owners, told us it was a combination of influences that caused Vickery’s to close, “You can blame the economy or whatever, but it’s really what the City is trying to make this place. We used to be able to stay open until 4 and that’s when all the F&B people would come hang out. If my customers didn’t want smoking, I’d be the first to ban it, but they do. It’s the City.”
But what it comes down to most is the fact that “she’s tired,” says Stalker.
Charleston is a very different place from when Vickery’s opened here 18 years ago. Back then, the bars stayed open all night, Vickery’s served breakfast and was practically running 24 hours a day. And there were far fewer places to get your drink on. Upper King Street was still a desolate outpost with boarded-up storefronts. Vickery’s attracted Charleston’s young urban professionals, gay community, F&B workers, and college students to its freshly renovated space, quickly growing into downtown’s de facto gathering spot. The martinis were ice cold, the bartenders were super friendly, and the crowd was diverse. And none of that ever changed. What did change was its surroundings. The City gradually cracked down with a 2 a.m. bar closing and a smoking ban, gentrification marched north of Calhoun Street, and the foodie revolution influenced expectations. No longer was it enough to have well-prepared bar food and cheap blackeyed pea fritters. We wanted farm-to-table freshness and cheftastic creations.
But no matter what, Vickery’s has always been a respected institution, a favorite to a core community, beloved by old-timers but often overlooked by newer residents, who migrated to the row of bars on Upper King Street. The Shem Creek location will remain, and Gene’s Haufbrau isn’t going anywhere, but the closing of the downtown location marks a turning point in Chucktown’s modern history. Where will we go now for an expertly made martini and the most diverse and fun-loving crowd around?
Jason Stalker promises that we’ll be seeing him again. “I don’t know yet what I’m doing,” he says. “I spent 18 years behind that bar. I’m going to do a little family time and catch my breath. I don’t know if I’m going to Gene’s or Mt. Pleasant or heading to the beach and digging my toes in the sand.”