There is an easy going congeniality in Charleston, South Carolina.
I lived in Charleston during the 1980's, started a fresh pasta business, attended Johnson/Wales- cooked and bartended at the Primrose House and Tavern- then left after Hurricane Hugo crashed the party.
I never returned. There were many ghosts that I had to deal with intermixed with feelings about the this town, like no other that I've ever lived. My dreams of Charleston from the past have haunted me for years.
It's that kind of place.
From the dripping Spanish Moss to the whisper soft voices of the way people speak down in Charleston, I've felt like it was a part of me for longer than I can imagine.
I drove non-stop from Morristown to Charleston. Food and fuel the only real stops.
This gracious lady of the New South, is as elegant as ever. She has been recreated with pleasure as her first name.
All ravages of Hurricane Hugo have been erased like the rapid progression of the Kudzu vine across the Low Country landscape. Erasing the past in a swath of green.
I discovered a city that had grown up, yet still retains her "village by the sea" appeal and candor.
There is serious food here now and serious drink.
The chefs are filled with a passion for local, fresh, terroir and the brilliant flavor of the ocean. There is something about the nature of the pluff mud, tidal flats that makes the water alive with possibilities.
In a former life I lived in Portland, Maine. Portland was similar in my imagination to Charleston from a perspective of friendly to really great seafood. It's just freezing there! Too cold for me!
Oysters in South Carolina taste like no where else in the world. They are just about ravishing with a crisp glass of Rum! While in Charleston I was fortunate to snag a mini-bottle of Striped Pig Rum. This is the real thing. I would drink it with a splash of Perrier Sparkling Natural Mineral Water and a slice of Meyer Lemon. Maybe a splash of Sweet Iced Tea- but that would cover up the sublime freshness of Striped Pig. This rum is redolent with the flavor of the place. It's creamy-has a lovely finish of cane juice to heat to spice. I'm tasting it straight from the mini-bottle. No mixer but air.
This is fabulous Rum. I simply cannot wait to enjoy another cocktail with Todd Weiss, the owner of the Striped Pig distillery. The Gin Joint was, as you said... World class. There's just something about cocktails down here. Maybe it's the air, soft and laced with salt.
Here is Todd's Twitter address: @Dstilld
Oyster Skiff Cocktail
Striped Pig Rum
Perrier Sparkling Water
2 Shots of Striped Pig to a shaker filled 1/2 with ice
1/2 Shot Tenneyson Absinthe
4 Tablespoons of Royal Rose Simple Syrup of Autumn Plum
1 Medicine Dropper full of the Figgy Pudding
Shake and strain into a tall glass with some ice made from Coconut water
Charleston is a place of all kinds of possibilities. They embrace their history and catapult into the future. It's like a living museum.
The Belmont Lounge is located on a part of King Street that one would not venture to in the 1980's. Visually I remember a mostly bombed out area, nearly void of soul and life.
You would not want to walk there during the day and at night, well, I never did.
I lived on Charlotte Street and spent Hurricane Hugo in a kitchen house at #29. It was the most frightening thing I've ever experienced.
Now upper King Street is buzzing with activity. I must admit that the first time I ventured above Calhoun Street, I was a bit concerned for safety. No more. The Charleston PD don't just drive the streets, they walk them, bike them and make sure the area is very well observed. I'm impressed.
I wandered in off the street to find a cocktail lounge worthy of New York or even Barcelona. The groove was apparent in the lighting and the screening of "The Big Sleep" in glorious Black and White on the wall. The lighting, low and sensuous- the music not overwhelming. People spend more time talking than using their smart phones. They interact with the extremely congenial bar staff who genuinely have the knack and gift of gab. There is an Italian machine meant for slicing Salumi and a very high quality espresso machine for turning out perfect Irish coffee, topped by a thick mantle of cream. The bartenders are shorn in crisp white shirts with skinny ties. A bright red B for Belmont graces the bottom the tie.
Even the cocktail napkins are emblazoned with the B. Nice touch. I wanted one, but thought it better to ask first. (I didn't take one)
The salumi is brilliant, the cured pork redolent of fat and smoke, a perfect panini of melted tomato and mozzerella cheese delights! Too much food! Pickled vegetables abound, was that pickled okra? I really must be showing my Yankee inclinations now!
Yes, judging by the bar, I felt right at home.
I met Joey Ryan at the bar. He has an easy-going style and friendly demeanor that is instructional and kind.
He invented a cocktail known as the Off-Duty Bartender. My friend Federico Cuco down in Argentina would be proud of this drink because of the use of Cynar.
I'm reproduced it here with my complements:
Absinthe Rinse (add Absinthe to a glass with ice and water, then pour out.. preferably into my mouth)
2 oz 100 proof Rye I prefer Rittenhouse
3/4 oz Cynar
3/4 oz Fernet Branca
3/4 Punt e Mes
Stir ingredients in mixing glass while rocks glass is chilling with Absinthe rinse.
Strain ingredients in chilled glass after discarding ice. add large rock, and top with orange bitters.
The Belmont Lounge
511 King Street
Charleston, SC 29403
Joey, Hat's off to you and the Belmont. I could spend much time in your care.
Yesterday I was contemplating Pimms Cup. The addition of lemonade is particularly inviting. I added to the mix by the inclusion of Absinthe. Somehow the very mention of Absinthe makes me think of two places. New Orleans and Charleston. Two very European cities firmly grounded in the United States.
Woolworth's Lunch Counter Surprise
Sweet Ice Tea
Freshly made seltzer
Add 2 Shots of Pimms to the fresh Lemonade and Sweet Iced Tea
Add 1 Shot of Lucid Absinthe
Top with freshly drawn seltzer
Garnish with a home cured cherry (essential!)
Swing on the porch swing to make the pain go away
Pluff Mud Cocktail
Snap (USDA Certified Ginger Snap Liquor)
Knob Creek Single Barrel Bourbon
Bitter End Mexican Mole' Bitters
Make a nice cup of Hot Chocolate
Add 2 Shots of Snap
Add 1 Shot of Knob Creek
Add 3 drops of the Bitter End Bitters
Makes two rather lovely cocktails perfect for a cool night or dessert
seen in Charleston
Sullivan's Island Smash
2 Shots of Striped Pig White Rum
1 Shot Cane Syrup
1 Shot Freshly squeezed orange juice
4 ozs. Coconut water (sweetened)
Coconut Water Ice
To a cocktail shaker, fill 1/3 with regular ice
Add Coconut Water
Shake and strain into small rocks glasses with Coconut Water ice cubes
Smash the Coconut Water cubes in a towel for maximum extraction of flavor!
Garnish with fresh mint and freshly scraped nutmeg- ESSENTIAL!!!
All Photography by Warren Bobrow with Leica M8, 50mm Summicron F2