It seemed fitting Tuesday that Eric Brantley’s friends and family toasted his memory with small, plastic cups of Maker’s Mark bourbon.
The 43-year-old Charleston man spent the better part of three decades working in the area food and beverage scene and had just finished a bartending shift at Park Circle’s The Sparrow the morning he was killed.
“Let’s have a drink to Eric Devlin Brantley,” said longtime friend Ben Hammock, raising his cup high.
Hundreds followed suit and then cheered under the shadow of a tent outside Quarters K at Riverfront Park. Some wore black, some wore colorful dresses and others wore shirts monogrammed with “EBLA,” which stands for Eric Brantley Liberation Army. North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey made an appearance toward the end of the service.
There were many tears, but the occasion was more a celebration of the life he led than a somber memorial.
“He carefully curated his world with friends and places and things he pursued, and we who got to know him were the fortunate ones,” Hammock read from another friend’s eulogy. “We all wanted to know Eric; we wanted to be around him; we wanted to be in his light. Now we have to make our own.”
Brantley was supposed to be the best man at Hammock’s wedding this fall but was shot to death last week. Two teenagers are accused of robbing him and shooting him early April 20. Both remain at large.
At the service, Hammock described how it took years to get close to Brantley, how he was choosy about the company he kept and how modest he really was, even when he seemed like the most arrogant man in the room.
“He was a relentless, unapologetic individual and people could tell the second he walked through the door,” Hammock said. “He was a complete gentleman in a class of his own.”
He was magnetic, kind and genuine, lived bigger than life and had a true passion for music and motorcycles. He gave everyone he knew a master class in being cool, according to his friend’s eulogy.
“He showed everybody who paid close enough attention that being cool was about living life on your own terms, owning yourself, being who you are without fear or through fear, unflinchingly, consistently, with as much style as you can muster,” Hammock read.
Cami Kind, owner of The Sparrow, worked with Brantley and knew him for years.
“He was one of those people that, once you’re his friend, you’re his friend forever,” she said. “He was the first person to call when you needed advice or needed to be comforted.”
She took a drag off her cigarette outside the bar Tuesday as she spoke emotionally about her loss, wearing large sunglasses to cover her eyes.
“He was just a unique person,” Kind said. “There was only one Eric Brantley.”
Since the shooting, which happened just outside the bar, the outpouring of support from the community has been amazing, Kind said. An older couple called her last week and offered one of their plots in an area cemetery for Brantley, even though they never met him, she added.
“A loss for one is a loss for us all,” she said. “We’re a very tight-knit community. We take care of each other, and that’s made it easier, or as easy as it can be.”
Many at the service gathered afterward at The Sparrow. People who didn’t know each other introduced themselves with hugs and shared stories about Brantley — the best way, Hammock said, to keep getting to know him.
“This is how he lives on in this world,” he said.
Reach Melissa Boughton at 843-937-5594 or at Twitter.com/mboughtonPC.