Cocktailing in Charleston has become extraordinarily sophisticated, but the city still drinks far more than its share of Grand Marnier shots.
"Grand Marnier. That is Charleston drinking," says Roderick Weaver, head bartender of The Bar at Husk. "It's embarrassing how much people drink Grand Marnier."
Drinks history is often hazy, since its central figures are typically pickled. And the local ascent of Grand Marnier, affectionately known as "Grand Ma," is no exception to the rule. But the reigning best guess is that the French liqueur migrated to the bar from restaurant kitchens, where cooking spirits weren't subject to the state law confining alcohol to mini-bottles.
The Rarebit's Brent Sweatman, who's tried to determine exactly where the fad got its start, thinks the cooks at Vickery's now-closed downtown location helped popularize shooting Grand Marnier.
By the 1990s, Robert Jackson of Aleph Wines says, white-tablecloth restaurants around Charleston were charging $15 for a shot served in a snifter; at grittier bars, four bucks was the going rate.
"I remember attending a Grand Marnier dinner back in 1999 with the Marnier-Lapostolle family, who were just amazed at the amount of their product we were going through," Jackson says, recalling one of the owners' "well-disguised disgust" at Charleston's consumption habits. "But, the man was a business man, and I suppose we could have been bathing in it for all he cared, as long as those depletions of his product continued."