[image-2]It’s been nine months since Ben Russell-Schlesinger and Robert Young closed the short-lived Union Provisions at 513 King St., but today we got our first look at their next concept opening there, The Darling Oyster Bar.

With the help of restaurant consultant Nathan Thurston, Young and Russell-Schlesinger have revamped the space, stripping it of its framed Northwest fruit label decor and opting instead for a sea-theme. The back of the long dining room now features a three-shelf bookcase filled with nautical tchotchkes — coral, sea glass balls, and old glass and ceramic bottles. Tables have been swapped for sea-foam green banquettes, a midnight blue lounge area now hides behind huge curtains beyond the hostess stand, and right in front of the large King Street windows is the 14-seat oyster bar. 

“We wanted to make this a neighborhood spot where locals would go,” says Thurston. “It’s casual and comfortable. It’s not a special occasion spot. It’s unpretentious.” As proof he points to TVs now stationed aside the back of the bar. The casual feel extends to the staff uniform which will be T-shirts adorned with “The Darling.” Bartenders will wear seersucker Oxford shirts.

From the bar, staff will serve local beers and cocktails. Thurston says The Darling will take advantage of late night in the new lounge area and will stay open until 2 a.m. daily. 

But what of the food? As you might assume, it will be a seafood heavy menu. Oysters will be sourced locally when in season and up the East Coast when out of season. There will be a few turf options as well like a fried chicken sandwich (Brown’s Court is providing the bread) and a burger chef Joe DiMaio says will be sold Shake Shack-style where you can request it pink or no pink, in addition to the oysters, shellfish pot pie, and snapper toast.

“Joe will be sourcing his seafood locally,” adds Thurston. Which raises the question, has Charleston reached peak oyster bar capacity downtown? Mike Lata and Adam Nemirow’s Ordinary is just a block away from The Darling. A few more blocks up up King you can get oysters at Leon’s. And yesterday Hanna Raskin at the Post & Courier reported that another oyster bar from the highly acclaimed Rappahannock Oyster Company out of Virginia is expanding into the Cigar Factory this fall. But even with all of those, Thurston’s of a mind that you can’t have too much of a good thing.

“We haven’t reached oyster bar saturation yet,” he says. In fact, he thinks there’s plenty of room in the Charleston culinary market for more seafood-focused restaurants overall.

“We’re a port city and so I feel like we have room for even more seafood options,” Thurston says. His hope is that locals will agree and latch onto the Darling’s concept. Then he believes tourists, like those staying in the nearby Hyatt Hotel at King and Spring, will find their way in as well via word of mouth.

Young certainly hopes Thurston is right. He says he and Russell-Schlesinger are confident this restaurant will take, especially since they’ve changed their approach after having learned some hard lessons following the failure of Union Provisions.

“We’ve learned you have to take tremendous care of the concept,” says Young. “Our mission is to do just that.” 

The Darling Oyster Bar will open this spring. 

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