There is no peephole, no password is required, no secret handshake mastered, just an enthusiastic welcome from the friendly host at Prohibition and you're in.
Cuisine: Contemporary fusion
Representative Dish: Mushroom focaccia and smoky shrimp and grits
Address: 547 King St.
Bar: Full-service bar, rear back bar, specialty cocktails and infusions
Hours: 4 p.m.-2 a.m. Tuesday-Friday, 11 a.m.-2 a.m. Saturday-Sunday
Costs: Appetizers $4-$11; salads $6-$15; entrees $14-$18; sides $5-MP, desserts $5-$7
Vegetarian Options: Limited, unless one eats seafood
Wheelchair Accessible: Yes
Parking: Street parking
Other: Daily special sheet; Happy Hour 4-7 p.m. Tuesday-Friday with special pricing on drinks and food menu; take-out; catering; live music; Wednesday dance lessons; outdoor dining area; weekend brunch, OpenTable
In late September, Mercury Bar transitioned into Prohibition with new owners John Teevan and James Walsh. The space got a new look and vibe under the careful eyes of interior designer and bar decor maestro Benjamin Kay and local architect Neil Stevenson.
Dressed in dark, reclaimed wood with rough floorboards mellowed by age and humidity and a stamped-tin ceiling, Prohibition is just furtive enough.
Edison bulbs with their squirrel cage filaments bathe the room in amber light, worthy illumination for molls and dolls, flappers and their drapers. It is the glow of melancholy, not limelight.
A casual assemblage of faded photographs of the "Noble Experiment" paper the walls with a sense of prohibition's history.
A small stage provides the forum for live music and on Wednesdays dance lessons are given. For the floor flushers out there, Stephen Duane and company keep the vibe alive with the Charleston and swing lessons. A variety of Dixieland bands also bring hot jazz and cool swing to this speakeasy down South.
There is a harp at the bar and Jim McCourt has developed a hooch menu that does not require doctoring or decorating to make a "shine" taste good. Winner of Charleston Magazine's Top Cocktail with his Itty Bitty made with vodka (not so authentic to the era), Americano, lemon, honey and basil, McCourt demonstrates all the skills the pre-Prohibition bartenders possessed, as it was a generation who made their tonics, brewed their own tinctures and blended bitters for their classic libations.
It does seems a dichotomy that as we celebrate our current Golden Era of the mixologist, a new crop of restaurants and bars rises up paying tribute to the Volstead Act and the 18th Amendment. With The Gin Joint and the Blind Tiger leading the charge, Proof, The Cocktail Club, Vincent Chicco and Prohibition are now shaking and stirring vintage cocktails that would make Enoch "Nucky" Thompson proud.
Wisely the owners of Prohibition kept chef Stephen Thompson on board. Thompson and his cooks work in a slip of a kitchen that is a production marvel. In a space the size of a small hallway they produce a short menu for sharing, an edited menu of entrees and "solo fellas" that pair well with their "pips" or side dishes. Innovation flourishes in this compact and intriguing menu featuring locally sourced, seasonally vigilant ingredients.
Duck appears to be the kitchen's current fancy with duck stock, hash, eggs, confit, creole sauce, golden fried eggs and shaved yolk making an appearance in many dishes.
A long plank of focaccia topped with Mepkin Abbey mushrooms and garlic marinated goat cheese was a popular sharing item along with bootlegger wings drenched in a maple bourbon sauce at the time of our visit. Lowcountry dim sum is a heart's delight of tender dumplings filled with ground shrimp and pork, strewn with micro-greens, herbs and orange supremes shimmering under a mahogany glaze of soy.
The menu dips and twists and turns among the cuisines of Japan, Mexico, France, China, Italy, Spain and the American South with confidence.
The cuteness quotient can be found in mini cast-iron skillets in which brined pork chops, shrimp and grits, and mac and cheese St. Louis-style come to the table in homey simplicity with the full throttle of retained heat.
St. Louis transplants will find a taste of home in the Provel cheese that glues the mac and cheese: This Velveeta of the Midwest is a pasteurized process cheese blend of cheddar, Swiss and provolone with a dash of liquid smoke to trigger its umami factor.
Thompson offers homage to Carolina with a coastal roll of blue crab, shrimp and fried oysters finished with cilantro, celery and chili aioli.
Neither ingredients nor world cuisines limit his inclination to fuse, most with good success.
The "solos" were well-executed: crisp and dry-fried oysters, succulent one bites of lamb rib chops, tacos of shrimp or fresh catch tangled with a spicy slaw and sweetened with a salsa based on mango.
The menu delivers to your needs as companion foods to the cocktail riffs, balanced entrees for those in need of dinner, salty-spicy bar food staples, and refreshing salads and vegetable wraps that can be topped with a protein of your choosing.
The special sheet expands the options and the menu has gone through a few change-ups since its fall debut.
On the "hooch" side of the menu, McCourt and company do not disappoint. A rye revival can be found in their 547 Manhattan, the Bramble and the Strawberry Smash bring fruit to your giggle water without a cloying sweetness, and the award-winning Itty Bitty is a perfect aperitif where bitter and sweet ruminate on your taste buds and prickle your palate for dinner.
Rotating beer selections are on draught along with local Holy City's seasonal brew.
Prohibition has upped the ante on the Upper King bar scene. With dance instructions, live bands and themed entertainment, it hits quite a few sweet spots for drinking, dining and "eatertainment." It is survival of the fittest as bars and restaurants ambulate up King Street. The folks at Prohibition know its no cakewalk and they have prepared accordingly.