Charleston Private Dining 101
As a Charlestonian owning an event production and destination management company now for nine years, the loyalty I feel to restaurants runs very deep. My family is in the wholesale and retail seafood business, which gives me a great perspective as to where the product in the restaurants is coming from and who is sincere about their final product as well. This is one of the factors that I take into account when placing groups in private dining locations.
Thirty years ago, restaurants were so few in Charleston – perhaps five white cloth establishments and the yacht and country clubs. Today, private dining has become very chic with the combination of savvy restaurateurs who understand the need and chefs who understand that groups are no longer “banquets” and expect an experience.
Our company offers all sort of additions to heighten the experience. We often have spiritual singers perform, basket weavers demonstrating their craft, culinary historians speaking about the idiosyncrasies of Charleston cuisine and our history (ex: we tend to frown on seated dinners and are in favor cocktail parties without the use of plates and our food is heavily influenced by the enslaved Africans who came here from Sierre Leon and Senegal) and demonstrations of court dances from the 18th century or our state dance, the Shag!
Here are some of my favorites restaurants which feature private dining, both old and new:
One of the first private dining rooms in Charleston, Magnolias opened their second-floor rooms to compliment each other, making certain that the full dining room downstairs maintains itself as a separate experience. Commissioned art work from American artist Rod Gobel, each piece an interpretation of a Magnolia, dresses the room. Expansive menus with selections make this a favorite. Guests start with plates of Hot chips topped with Clemson Blue Cheese and smile, setting the tone for the evening.
Just two doors down sits Cypress, which features a more contemporary feel, matched with excellent service and cuisine. A wall of wines behind glass makes for exciting entertainment from the large round window at the end of the room.
Just a block down from Magnolias is a room that gives me chills, and that is the Long Room at McCrady’s. I have produced events through the terms of four administrations of chefs.
Currently under the reign of James Beard “Best Chef Southeast” award winner Sean Brock, this room where President George Washington was entertained during his 1791 tour through Charleston is the place where our clients are drawn to for the essence of “Old Charleston”. Chef Brock brings a 21st-century flair to the cuisine but honors the treasured traditions of researching actual types of vegetables to bring back varieties that are historically significant as possible, along with the pouring of the Rare Wine Company’s SERCIAL MADEIRA, made today in the dry style that Charlestonians enjoyed in the 18th century. We often talk about this Madeira poured at Washington’s inauguration and JMC always makes sure that a toast is part of the evening’s production.
A newcomer to the fine private dining season is a chef Kevin Johnson whom I have worked with for years. Under the direction of his whisk at Anson Restaurant, my clients enjoyed many fine dinners there, and Anson is still a favorite when you can buy out the second floor and enjoy the often talked about Crispy Fried Flounder. http://www.ansonrestaurant.com/index.html
Chef Johnson’s new restaurant, THE GROCERY, is just a step off of Upper King Street and features a grand scaled room which large windows overlooking the corner of King and Cannon Streets. Guests feel like they have been there before. It offers a local flavor in each course that just wreaks “farm to table” without being contrived. We often feel and describe this place as a restaurant that could be in the middle of the country and they HAD to put things up and preserve them to stay open. Johnson does it by choice and creates magic. His private room seats 24 or so and is just perfect for groups to enjoy and then sojourn with a map in hand down King Street our popular nightlife spots for a well-crafted cocktail, such as the Cocktail Club, the Belmont, or PROOF!
There are several private dining options at Circa 1886. From an intimate room for 12 to a classic Charleston designed interior for 38 with vistas of the garden, Chef Marc Collins always creates a menu with very subtle hints of international interest. As the brainchild behind the Charleston Wine + Food Festival some eight years ago, Collins is passionate about using local ingredients but offers this nuance from a different location or era that gives you that “ah hah” moment. Groups love to arrive after a half hour carriage tour and finding this jewel nestled in a neighborhood off the normal tourist path. I love our clients going to the Cupola of the adjoining Wentworth Mansion for a glass of bubbly, with one of our tour guides giving a steeple tour of this fourth story view and the meandering to the restaurant for an oenological and gastronomical excursion.