It had seemingly been there forever. The faded blue shack at the end of the Market with a painted sign that claimed “This Is Your Place.” Curious but, as a new Charleston resident, intimidated by its nondescript facade, I didn’t go inside until after the City Paper‘s very first Best of Charleston in March of 1998, when Your Place swept the Best Burger category handily.
I was probably right to be intimidated. Your Place defied the prevailing sunny stereotype of Southern hospitality, harkening back to the days of a seedy shoreline where sailors and stevedores stopped in for good cheap food. Or maybe they didn’t. I have no idea how long Your Place had been there and never found out its history, but I do know that it dated back long before my time.
Inside the white screen door, the ugly kind you’d buy at the hardware store, was a dark and greasy spot teeming with generations of locals, many of whom had carved initials and important dates into the wooden tables and walls over the years. The griddle in the corner behind the bar was overseen by a no-nonsense gal, flipping burgers that were so perfect you couldn’t imagine ever eating one anywhere else.
It quickly became a place of solace if I was hungover, harried, or simply hungry for the best kind of flattop burger. I don’t know what they did to them that made them so good, but it certainly wasn’t artisanal or house-ground or even cooked with love. The burgers were slung with attitude and plenty of grease.
As Jeff Allen remembered in 2006 in a review of Your Place (when it did the unthinkable and moved out of its iconic locale to a nondescript spot in Mt. Pleasant before closing altogether a year or so later), the secret was the grease. “Having studied the art of burger cooking from across the bar at the real This is Your Place, I can tell you their former secret to the best, juiciest, running-down-the-elbows burgers in history,” he wrote. “It was all about the people. People started pouring in around 11:15 at the old joint and the girls were always ready for them with dozens of fresh handmade patties hitting the hot plate in unison, sputtering and splattering a symphony as they bathed in their own fat. You see, the people created grease and lots of it. That half-inch of fat that roiled into the trap at the front of the unit perhaps cooled down the cooking surface … steeping the burgers, and your clothes, in a concentration of their own flavor. They were burger confits. Slabs of goodness lacquered in the slow profusion of flavors developed on top of that seasoned griddle.”
I’ll take his word for it because I can’t come up with anything better than that.
Your Place was also about community and reliability. Every day, the ladies were there ready to feed us, whether they wanted to be or not. There’s something about a bad attitude that made it even more of an experience, but not in that manufactured Dick’s Last Resort way.
I recently asked friends what they remembered about Your Place on Facebook, and the collection paints a picture of what it meant in our daily lives — beyond those damn fine burgers.
“Walking there between my double at Magnolia’s, hungover as hell, and the girl behind the counter cooking my burger with a cigarette in her mouth over the grill handing me a beer and saying, ‘You look like shit.'”
—Steve Palmer, Indigo Road Restaurant Group
“I watched a wharf rat walk in the propped-open front door once, he sauntered in, no one batted an eye.”
“Some days you couldn’t go because the water was too high. Like several times a month.”
—Chad Murdock, local realtor
“Getting fired during the day shift at Market Street Bistro, getting a burger and lots of beer at Your Place, and then getting rehired for the dinner shift that night. The lady behind the counter gave me a free beer and told me, ‘Good luck with that one.’ This happened a lot.”
—Craig Nelson, owner of Proof