Mitch Banchik is part of a team from New York City that’s opening Uptown Social, a 10,000-square-foot sports bar and event space in the former Huger’s at 587 King St. As a partner in NYC Best Bars, a group that runs eight bars in New York and a couple more in Chicago, Banchik knows how to run a successful good-time sports bar in what he calls “a hostile business environment for hospitality.”
That hostility in New York is what led the company to start scouting new markets. Partner Keith Benjamin, a regular Charleston vacationer, pitched the smaller Southern market, and the group seems almost surprised to be doing business here.
But they’ve found Charleston to be easier when it comes to working with the city on zoning and permitting. “It’s no cakewalk,” says Banchik. “But we love doing business down here. Everyone is welcoming and it’s just not as difficult as New York.”
They are also finding the hospitality community to be friendly and supportive. “Our attitude is busy breeds busy,” says Benjamin. “If other places are doing well, then we’re doing well.”
Banchick sees that same attitude in the industry here. A founder of the NYC Hospitality Alliance, which was started to fight the “onslaught of anti-business legislation,” Banchick doesn’t mess around when it comes to what he considers hostile regulations. The alliance’s blog offers insight into running a New York bar with tips on controlling unruly Santas and information on fire regulations regarding CO2 dispensing, along with other news pertinent to members.
His approach to hospitality lobbying might be a welcome adjustment in a town where hospitality alliances and restaurant associations are geared more toward promotion and marketing than lobbying and regulation.
Benjamin moved to town a few months ago and will be the managing partner on site at Uptown Social. “We were encouraged to bring deals to the table,” says Benjamin. “And along those lines, you’d have to be willing to move to that market.”
In April 2016, they found 587 King St. Banchik says it was in bad shape and the landlord rebuilt it and handed them an empty box. “It had no utilities, a dirt floor,” he says.
Nearly two years later, they are putting finishing touches on the massive space. The sports bar will be on the ground floor. Its 60-foot bar will be, they claim, the longest in Charleston, and they can probably boast the most TVs per square inch with 50 televisions, a video wall and four projection screens. “Everybody will get to see every game,” says Benjamin.
Hearing that Charleston needed event spaces, the group decided to create a flexible venue upstairs that can be one large space with an outdoor patio or can be broken up into two smaller areas.
Downstairs, the sports bar will have plenty of beer including craft and local options, a limited cocktail program with a couple of frozen drink machines, and food prepared from scratch in the kitchen. To that end, they’re specializing in super-thin crust bar pies, as Benjamin describes them. They’ve hired Anthony Falco, formerly of Roberta’s in Brooklyn, to consult on the pizza. He’ll be making a trip to town in the coming months to train the kitchen staff.
Speaking of staff, just how are they dealing with the staffing shortage that Charleston’s restaurant industry is struggling with? Benjamin says they are bringing six long-time employees down from New York with them, and in order to attract the 40 or so people they need to hire, they will do what they do back home: provide a positive work environment, take care of their workers, and reward loyalty.
Of course, success in New York City does not necessarily translate into success in Charleston, but the NYC Best Bar group is excited to put their significant experience creating comfortable and affordable neighborhood bars to work in creating Uptown Social and have a good feeling about finding a loyal local fanbase.