A long time ago, in a suburb not very far away, the Pour House — or the Pour House Restaurant and Pub, as it was called back then — was very different from the relaxed James Island spot we know today. The owners served lunch, plates of stuffed pork loin and parmesan-encrusted grouper. There was some live music, but not much — although the weekly Widespread Wednesdays managed to entice Alex Harris to come in one night.
This was a rough time for Alex. He had moved to Charleston with his band, but they broke up, and at 23, he didn’t know what he was doing with his life. He was lost and depressed. And he happened to live with one of the co-owners of the Pour House Restaurant and Pub, a guy named Norm. “My dad was down here and we went out on Norm’s boat, and he’s like, I want to sell this place. He just wanted to get out of it,” Alex says. “My dad said, ‘Why don’t we buy this place for you? You go there all the time, you’re trying to figure out what to do. Try it.’ He helped me borrow the money, so we bought it.” That was about 10 years ago, and this weekend the venue will celebrate the tin anniversary with a weekend-long celebration featuring Toubab Krewe, Larry Keel and Natural Bridge, Chompin’ at the Bit String Band, Flannel Church, Reverend Jeff Mosier, and more.
“It was kind of a mess at first,” Alex remembers. “We had a lot of fun. Too much fun.” His wife Vanessa says she’s shocked that they were in charge of a bar at such a young age (she was hired to work in the kitchen). But when you own a business, you learn as you go, and the Harrises have learned a lot. There still wasn’t a whole lot of live music at the beginning, until Alex started slowly building relationships with booking agents, developing a rotation of bands that played regularly. “We were super young and definitely made some mistakes, I suppose, with the way it was run. But I mean, we were 23, 24 respectively. We were kids,” Vanessa adds. “[It was] just a lot of learning through falling down, you know?”
Fortunately, it didn’t take them too long to get their heads on straight. For one thing, they knew they didn’t want to be in West Ashley. And fortunately, they’ve never had a problem with booking the right music “We’re crazy, and we’re lucky. And my dad’s crazy to have helped me get the financing for this,” Alex says. “But you know, it’s worked out, and it’s providing my family with a living and we’re proud to be doing it our own way.”
In 2005, the same year they got married, Alex and Vanessa bought their current James Island property. They’ve built a Pour House family, a staff of about 20 people, many of whom are their friends. But then there’s the actual Harris family, which now includes three kids: a 5-year-old, a 3-year-old, and a 1-year-old. The children spend a lot of time out on the deck, where you’ll see plenty of kids and even dogs, but they haven’t been to any inside shows quite yet — those usually happen way past their bedtimes. “The whole vibe of the Pour House is very, very familial,” Vanessa says. “Everyone knows our kids, patrons and staff. We don’t have much family here or any really, so they’re always in tow.” They’ve also been to plenty of staff meetings and job interviews.
“Our business has done better and better and better because of us having the children and looking at them every day and then starting to pay for all kinds of things for them,” Alex says. “It just makes you focus. It gives me a lot of focus.”
After 10 years as the owners of a music venue, a lot of the stuff the Harrises have learned is common sense. Now they know the business side of things and keep a tighter watch on what’s happening, like not allowing their staff to get too wasted or overpour drinks, or dealing with things like making sure the building is up to code or handling neighbors who complain about noise. “It’s almost depressing to talk about,” Alex laughs. “It’s just a lot of that, constantly checking up and watching and figuring out what you’re doing wrong.”
And in no way does he advise 23-year-olds to own bars, but he’s glad they did it. “I know a lot more now,” he says. “I think that any 33-year-old guy would tell you that he knows way more than he did when he’s 23. Your entire 20s … the difference in those 10 years, the amount of things that happened in my life, in our life, it’s like buying a house and having our own business, having three kids. It’s just a lot of huge things in life that make you change and grow up.”