237 Meeting St.
Today: King Charles Inn
Yesterday: The Argyle Hotel, 1901-1957
On the menu: Virginia quail on toast (Nov. 23, 1905)
The rush to transform the St. Charles Hotel into the Argyle was so intense that its owners didn’t give much thought to food service: When the facility opened just in time to house South Carolina Inter-State and West Indian Exposition attendees, meals were included in the price of a room.
But the Argyle three years later hired Charles A. Merritt, described in The News and Courier as “a well-known and popular hotel man” with experience at high-end hotels in Jacksonville, Florida and restaurants in New York City. He had briefly run Harvey’s Ladies’ and Gentlemen’s Oyster Saloon in Washington, D.C., a café patronized by every president from Ulysses S. Grant to Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Merritt’s aim was to draw visitors to Charleston in the summertime, a bold goal to adopt just two years after the invention of electrical air conditioning. To appeal to a wider range of guests, he persuaded the hotel to become the city’s “first and only modern European-plan hotel.”
Under a European plan, menu items are sold a la carte, which means they’re also available to the general public. Merritt was especially keen to attract train passengers and theatergoers.
Argyle served its first a la carte breakfast on Oct. 21, 1905.
“There was a good run of patronage,” The Evening Post reported. “Manager Merritt said that everybody was welcome to come into the dining room and order anything from an oyster fry or stew to an elaborate dinner.”
One year later, Merritt quit. His success at the Argyle earned him another job offer from Harvey’s. Speaker of the House Joseph “Uncle Joe” Cannon, for whom the Cannon House Office Building is named, was the first to welcome him back.
In 1957, long after other Charleston hotels had opened their dining rooms, the Argyle was razed.
— Hanna Raskin