Remember Mercury Bar? It was a hot dance spot for about a second on Upper King Street. Little more than a year later, Mercury Bar is no more. New owners have dismantled the old place, keeping a few key things — like the chef — but doing away with the name, style, and flavor of the old place.
Owners James Walsh and John Teevan brought in designer Benjamin Kay from London to transform the spot into a warm environment with a Prohibition-era vibe. Hence the new name: Prohibition.
“We gutted the place,” says Walsh. “We cladded the walls with 180-year-old, weathered barn wood. Some of these are 20-inch planks. We essentially went out picking all over the Carolinas … It’s very rustic. We put a tin ceiling in and took all the neon and plastic and tacky stuff out.”
A dance floor remains inside, but the musical offerings will be quite different. Instead of DJs in a booth spinning the latest pop tunes, full bands will take the stage.
“I won’t strictly say it will be a jazz club,” says Walsh. “We’ll also have swing, Cuban, salsa nights, Latin nights. Everything will be very much in that time period. No rock bands, but we’ll have some blues and soul on the weekends.”
They’ll have Wednesday night dance lessons, schooling young’uns on the art of the shag, lindy hop, and the Charleston. You can also expect to see female lounge singers, Dixieland jazz bands, and everyone’s favorite big band leader, Joe Clarke.
The drinks will, of course, be Prohibition era. They’ve moved bartender Jim McCourt down from New York City to create a craft cocktail program.
And they’ve built chef Stephen Thompson a fresh new kitchen so he can continue to impress people with his skills in the kitchen. If you remember, Eric Doksa gave Mercury a pretty stellar review last summer, and brunch at Mercury had indeed become a thing. The new owners recognize Thompson’s talent and are giving him a better venue in which to star.
“Stephen was lost,” says Walsh. “His talents were lost. We want to give him an opportunity to shine.”
Currently, Thompson is busy experimenting with dishes before the menu is finalized by the grand opening on Sept. 26. Expect to see oysters on the half shell, a lobster roll, perhaps mussels, in addition to his famous shrimp and grits and duck hash.