The “Pint Bill” passes and beer-centric bars flood the scene
The craft beer movement swelled to new heights this year with the governor signing into law what’s become known as the “pint bill,” which allows customers to buy and drink up to 48 ounces of fresh suds while on a brewery tour. The legislation paved the way for more entrepreneurship among craft brewers. Across the state, the number of breweries is expected to double, according to a USA Today report, and in Charleston, Frothy Beard and Freehouse joined COAST, Holy City, Westbrook, and Palmetto in supplying us with local specialties. Then there’s the glut of beer-centric tap houses with Craftsmen, Bohemian Bull, and Bay Street Biergarten opening to big crowds, and Edmund’s Oast slated to open in January 2014. Drink up.
Distilleries juice up local offerings with new spirits
In related news, the 2009 state law change that differentiates between manufacturers of liquor and microdistilleries (a licensing fee difference of $45,000) encouraged a wave of new spirit-makers in Charleston. Joining Firefly this year has been High Wire Distilling Co. and the Striped Pig. The Charleston Distilling Co. should also be open for business soon on King Street. These new distilleries are carving out a niche in the locavore world, making farm-to-shaker spirits that use local grain, sugar cane, and sorghum, which pair nicely with local artisanal mixers made by Bittermilk and Jack Rudy. These distilleries are open for tours too, so you can stop by for a sip and an eye-opening look into the distilling process.
City wages war on late-night rowdiness
Upper King Street, once an outpost of downtown, has become the center of all things. Restaurants and bars are thriving, as evidenced by late-night crowds and long lines. Several hotels are also going up in the area, which explains why the city went ahead and addressed the throngs of revelers by passing a controversial late-night ordinance. The new regulations require bars that get more than 35 percent of their revenue from alcohol sales to staff more security, monitor parking areas, and clear patrons from the area within 30 minutes of closing. It also created a mayor-appointed Late-Night Entertainment Establishment Review Committee to vet all new business applications for bars. Since being made law in July, no major snafus have arisen, and council will revisit the law in the next few weeks to assess its impact. In related news, over in Cannonborough-Elliotborough, residents have begun rallying to prevent future bars from staying open past 11 p.m. We have a hunch the new late-night zone will soon be found on Morrison Drive.
Fire destroys four East Bay Street bars
Last April, a fire broke out in the early morning hours on the upper floor of 213 E. Bay St. It quickly spread to the roof and damaged the façade of the century-old building. Nobody was hurt, but it did put four bars out of business — Light, Squeeze, the Brick, and Speakeasy. Fundraisers were organized, temporary employment was found, and rebuilding has been slow. Matt Quillen, owner of the Brick, had hoped to reopen before 2014, but those hopes were dashed back in September as workers had to replace the entire roof before rebuilding could begin inside.
Wine + Food fest gets a new director
It wasn’t two weeks after the 2013 Charleston Wine + Food Festival ended that founding director Angel Postell threw in the food-and-wine-stained towel, announcing her resignation to the board. Her tenure saw the festival evolve from a celebuchef-obsessed small-town affair to a national event that focused on the importance of Lowcountry foodways and celebrated Southern food. Many considered 2013 perhaps the best fest yet. After her departure, Postell returned to public relations, and the festival zeroed in on three potential replacements, two of whom had no hospitality experience and one of whom ran Euphoria, Greenville’s wine and food festival. Fortunately, the one with experience running an actual food festival was hired and is relocating to Charleston to take over. You won’t see Gillian Trimboli-Zettler’s imprint much on 2014, since it’s been programmed and managed by interim director Rick Jerue, but you can bet everyone will be watching her closely to see how she manages in 2015.
P&C finally realizes food is a thing
The Post and Courier has been shaking things up since Bill Hawkins retired at the end of 2012. New publisher P.J. Browning hired Mitch Pugh as editor, and the duo has been making significant changes and improvements to the South’s oldest daily newspaper. One big change has been recognizing the importance of the food scene in Charleston by hiring a full-time, nationally known food reporter and critic. Hanna Raskin arrived to town from the Seattle Weekly in August and has single-handedly made the P&C restaurant reviews a must-read. She’s been “Raskin’ Around” town so much, we’re starting to get pissed at all the scoops she’s getting. Good thing for us, her blog is nigh impossible to find behind the paywall on the P&C site.
The Piggly Wiggly closes
You know, the Pig was never a clean, well-lighted place. It always felt a little frowsy, a little behind the times. But the produce guy always greeted us with a smile, and the manager always helped bag our groceries (in paper bags, of course). Our joke motto for the Pig used to be: “Piggly Wiggly, we make the choice so you don’t have to” because they had a severe lack of options on the shelves. But over the years, they stocked up on unusual, local items that you could find only at the Pig. And we always appreciated the big bins of green peanuts, the 30-pound bags of Blue Ribbon Rice, and the smoked pork necks. They were also a reliable supporter of locally made specialty products, from benne seeds to Big Ed’s Heirloom Barbecue Sauce. So when Piggly Wiggly Carolina announced this fall that it was selling some stores off to Bi-Lo and Harris Teeter, we all felt defeated, as if a piece of our Southern heritage had just gone extinct and we didn’t even know it was endangered. We barely got a chance to say goodbye.
A year of dramatic closings
First it was Jestine’s. One random August afternoon, Dana Berlin Strange shut the doors on her popular Meeting Street meat-and-three in the middle of lunch service. Apparently it was time to remodel. Days later, she told Channel 5, “I’m a woman,” when they questioned the sudden closure. The restaurant eventually reopened in October, but it soon received a negative review in the Post and Courier. Of course, that didn’t keep the tourists away; the perpetual line around the block quickly reformed. Another dramatic public closing was that of the Green Door and Big John’s Tavern. Cory Burke from Roti Rolls had opened the Green Door last year, finding a quirky little spot to serve up his quirky food in a space within Big John’s. When the managers of Big John’s — nephew’s of the building’s owner — were ready to get out of the bar business, they tapped Burke to take over. But not so fast, said the building owner Ryan Condon, who bought Big John’s from the original owner John Cannady. His nephews may have been managing the place, but they didn’t have the right to sell it. One day, the locks were changed, Burke was out, and John Adamson of the Rarebit was announcing his partnership with Condon to renovate and reopen the popular watering hole.
REV shake-up results in new ventures
Karalee Nielsen and Tim Mink were a dynamic partnership at the REV restaurant group for years (Taco Boy, Closed for Business, Poe’s, Moza). She was the locally connected, passionate firebrand, pushing her company to connect with the community and make a difference. He was the quiet Brit who you didn’t see too much of. In 2013, that partnership dissolved and Nielsen and Mink headed off into different directions. While they retain their stakes in previous ventures, both are planning new restaurants. Nielsen is partnering with Buff Ross and her mentor Lily Lai from Seattle to open Lee Lee’s Hot Kitchen on the outskirts of the planned Horizon development. She has also acquired the old Granville’s space to open the Park Cafe. Meanwhile, Mink has found a new young gun to partner with in Brooks Reitz. The former manager of the Ordinary and the creator of Jack Rudy Tonic will be working with Mink to open a fried chicken and fish joint along with a cafe on upper Upper King Street.
Sean Brock’s mind gets explored and Cook It Raw happens
We joked that the top food story of the year could be “Sean Brock gets a haircut” because the interest in this guy is unrelenting. But we have to say, he rarely gets attention for insignificant stuff. We didn’t think he could get any bigger, but this year, Brock starred in the Anthony Bourdain-produced The Mind of a Chef on PBS and was instrumental in bringing Cook It Raw to town. He’s working on an elite international stage, and Charleston’s food community has been grateful to him for sharing the spotlight. With Cook It Raw came important food media, chefs from across the globe, and a warm and fuzzy feeling for the locals, who were proud to showcase their unique culinary heritage to such luminaries.