Last weekend I finally made it to Charleston, South Carolina. I have wanted to visits for the last couple of years after researching my next big move. (Sorry New York, but you are too expensive and I long for warm temperatures and being surrounded by well-mannered people of the south.)
With my son away from his study abroad trip in the South Pacific, I invited my childhood friend who I have known since the fourth grade. Even though life has brought us in different directions and we haven’t spent any time together in about ten years, it was like no time had passed when we got together and ventured on The Original Pub Tour of Charleston. We had so much fun that I have found myself over the past week reminiscing about the great night we spent making new friends while discovering great local pubs and learning the fascinating history of Charleston.
The tour offered at 4 pm and 7 pm time, and we decided to make a night out of it and took the latter. We met up with our tour guide Kyle and the rest of the group that included other visitors and a couple of locals. We took off from Market street and headed to the Craftsmen Kitchen & Tap Bar. Kyle greeted eagerly, and the ten of us followed him to this great little brick courtyard tucked in the middle of the surrounding historic buildings. Considering we were on a pub crawl, there was an extensive beer list to choose from, and I decided to keep it local and went with the Palmetto Brewery’s Experimental Blonde. As we enjoyed our beverage and Roasted Tomato Flatbread, Kyle started the history lesson and gave us an overview. We learned that the historic city of Charleston is the oldest town in the state. The city was founded in 1670 and was named for King Charles II and called Charles Towne. Charleston’s rich history included periods of great wealth and prosperity followed by generations of high poverty. Skirmishes with pirates and Indians and two major wars within the boundaries of Charleston are now part of the city’s history. Also, the city has suffered catastrophic fires that obliterated entire city blocks and endured several hurricanes. The city even experienced the largest earthquake (7.3) ever to rock the eastern coast of the United States. Kyle mentioned that Charleston’s drinking history also went back three hundred years and that beer and wine were drunk regularly by all, including children because the water was not clean; therefore unsafe for drinking. Honestly, with a history of pirates, wars, and natural disasters, I not surprised that drinking is part of with the Charleston’s history!
After wrapping things up at the Craftsmen, we headed to Tommy Condon’s Irish Pub that claims it is Charleston’s favorite Irish Pub. Here we all gathered around a table that was already reserved for us and one of the managers came over to greet us. We were served Irish Nachos Crispy Idaho Potatoes with bacon, jalapeños, tomato, green onions, cheddar & ranch. It was scrumptious I washed it down with a Palmetto Pale Ale. While we were enjoying the brew and good food, Kyle shared historical stories that are unique to Charleston. We learned that Charleston had been dubbed “The Holy City” because of the abundant church steeples that grace its skyline. The earliest settlers primarily came from England; other immigrants followed, including French, Scottish, Irish, Germans, and others. The various ethnic groups brought with them numerous Protestant denominations, as well as Roman Catholicism and Judaism, which would later earn Charleston the nickname of the “Holy City,” for its long tolerance for religions of all types and its many historic churches. We also learned about the “Four Corners of Law” which is the intersection where Broad Street crosses Meeting Street. When Charles Town moved in 1608 to the peninsula from its original site on the Ashley River the new city specially designed four corners for a “church, town house, and other public structures.” As a result, you have the Charleston City Hall, Charleston County Courthouse, the United States Courthouse & Post Office and St. Michael’s Episcopal Church.
After all that talk about churches, we left Tommy Condon’s which located on Church Street and ventured towards our next destination. During our walk, Kyle continued with the history lesson informing us the difference between a graveyard and cemetery. (A graveyard is attached to a church and a cemetery is at a different location.) With the conversation focusing on the dearly departed, he decided to share a few ghost stories too, including one about the grim reaper and a girl who went missing along with an alley that we passed. (None of us opted to venture down the alley.) Shortly after the ghost stories, we arrived at our third pub called The Blind Tiger. As soon as we walked in, I felt like I was in a time vault. There were cigarette machines from 50 years ago built into the wall; wood paneling surrounded us, and shirts hung from the tin tiled ceiling. The real history, however, was revealed when we walked out back to a great courtyard that had its history and where Kyle’s history lesson focused on the establishment itself. Here I ordered a Blue Moon (surprise another beer) and enjoyed real southern appetizers; white corn fritters and fried pickles. As we devoured the munchies set before us, Kyle shared that the courtyard walls had been standing since 1803. The most compelling tale, however, was the history behind the name, “Blind Tiger.” During the time of the state’s Dispensary Act (which was a State Government controlled a monopoly on all alcohol sales), Charlestonians opened up illegal parlors of consumption (speakeasies). The rooms were called “Blind Tigers.” Legend claims that an admission fee was paid to see this mythical beast and the crowd enjoyed “complimentary” cocktails. Of course, the tiger never showed up, and most of the patrons stumbled out blind.
On our way to the fourth pub, we passed a liquor store called the Tavern on East Bay Street. The liquor store was once a waterfront tavern more than 325 years ago. As we continued on our way, Kyle also pointed out that McCrady’s restaurant opened as an inn in 1778. Ten years later McCrady added a Long Room where George Washington enjoyed a 30-course dinner in 1791. Just after passing McCrady’s we turned on Vendue Range and filed into The Griffon. This dive bar was voted one of the best bars of the south for the last two years. I am not surprised because the ambiance was excellent. There were hundreds of one dollar bills all over the walls and ceiling with notes from the people who stapled them to their new home. Kyle wrapped up the history lesson and shared a story about the pirate Blackbeard in Charleston. Apparently, Blackbeard’s most brave act took place in Charleston, when he blockaded the harbor with his fleet and held the entire town hostage for a ransom of, oddly enough, medicine. He told one other Blackbeard tale which was creepy. I knew that Blackbeard’s end happened in North Carolina, but I didn’t know that his head ended up in Virginia along with what remained of his crew and that legend persists that his skull or at least the top part of his skull came back to Charleston, where it became a drinking cup.
Once leaving the Griffon, Kyle took shortcuts leading us through alleys behind buildings to our final destination which was another Irish Pub called Molly Darcy’s where there were dueling pianos. By the time we arrived at Molly Darcy’s our group of eleven had become fast friends. We were laughing it up with the ladies that lived a couple of hours from Charleston, the nurses that had moved from Lehigh, Pennsylvania that was planning their wedding and the first-grade teacher that had a passion for life. Kyle entertained us with story after story about his days as a ballroom dance teacher and his adventures with Mary Ann (maybe it was Mary Ellen…there were a lot of beers consumed) who is “just a friend.” He honestly was hysterical and made the tour. When the tour was “officially over” none of us left, and we ordered another round.