Moving to Charleston in 2020, Matt Conway and Carissa Hernandez swiftly settled into their new home | Photos by Leslie Ryann McKellar

New York transplants Matt Conway and fiance Carissa Hernandez have transformed a beloved downtown bubble tea house at Spring and Coming streets into the Tippling House, a neighborhood wine bar tucked into a single house.

During the early pandemic, Conway and Hernandez traveled to Charleston to “escape [their] small apartment and bad weather” — Conway’s sister lives in the area, working with Butcher & Bee. What was planned to be a short stay, however, turned into a permanent relocation, as the couple made the tough decision to “sever ties” with the Empire State.

“It was certainly not an easy decision,” Conway said. “But we decided to stay here in sunny Charleston and make this our new home.” 

Shortly after moving, Hernandez was hired to run events with Leon’s Oyster Shop downtown, while Conway had to briefly head back north to fulfill obligations with New York restaurants. Returning to Charleston in March 2021, he was ready to move forward. He wasn’t quite sure what to do, but knew he needed to do something.

“Fishing and walking the dogs wasn’t a suitable profession for Carissa,” he said.

With his extensive background in hospitality as a sommelier, he knew that was the way to go. And Conway didn’t have to wait long for an opportunity to come up, either. Things rolled quickly for the couple. 

Sharing some wine with chef James London and Yoanna Tang the night before the couple reopened Chubby Fish on Bogard Street, Conway mentioned he was looking for a space — or at the very least something to do. Tang suggested taking over the old Tapio space at 221 Coming St.

“I don’t even know what that is,” he said. The building never had a “for lease” sign on the window, according to Conway, but he was able to secure a walkthrough in April.

“It’s not pretty, but I really like the bones of the place. It’s just going to take a lot of work,” Conway said during a walkthrough.

The owner, having done their research, entrusted the house to Conway, handing him the keys and giving him the space to do what needed to be done. 

From April to June, Conway and Hernandez had experts visit to “look at problems that could present themselves,” and to “get a feel for what [they] wanted to do with the place and what it would feel like.” 

The couple decided to emphasize the building’s residential roots to create a “homey little wine bar.” It was, after all, a house from the 19th century.

Tippling House offers new wines daily at full- or half-bottle prices, as well as “Matthew’s Stash,” offerings available upon request

The following month, the couple took a brief trip to Rhône Valley in France — where Conway initially found his love of wine — and in August, signed the lease. Eleven weeks later in October, Conway and Hernandez opened the Tippling House, a fitting name for the spot. 

“We were looking for something unique and something that fit the house and the market,” said Conway.

“Wine bars aren’t unique in this country, so having originality was really important to us.” 

The name, according to Conway, has ties to both British and Charleston culture. A “tippling house,” in British culture, was a place where “men go to drink too much,” and because of the British influence in Charleston, those establishments had a place here, too. 

The name was simple, direct and a literal definition of what it has to offer — a house where you can go and grab a drink.

At the Tippling House, there are two main wine menus — a daily, always-changing list with, affordable wines that can be purchased in full- or half-bottle prices; and Matthew’s Stash — a selection of rare, properly aged wines available only upon request.

Chef Alex Yellan

And what’s a good wine without a bite to eat? The Tippling House has a small snack menu, curated by chef Alex Yellan, another New York transplant and local kitchen veteran. The snack menu was designed to provide wine-friendly snacks that aren’t too filling.

“We’re not looking to be a full-service restaurant or serious about dinner,” Conway added. “We’re trying to be a wine bar with tasty snacks that you can have for your pre- or post-dinner.”

Later down the road, the Tippling House will utilize the small building (formerly Taco Spot, for those who remember) adjacent to 221 Coming and offer takeout lunch services “that have nothing to do with the wine bar,” expected to start in the new year, added Conway. 

The Tippling House is open 4-9 p.m., Tues.-Thurs. and 4-10 p.m., Fri. and Sat.