I guess it’s a reflection of age and being more or less out of the loop — two conditions that go hand-in-hand if ever there were any — but it’s only recently become very clear to me why city officials have taken steps to put the skids on certain new businesses popping up along the upper King street corridor.
I enjoyed a juicy hamburger at HoM restaurant the other evening with family and a friend, but first had to find a place to park, which ended up being down on Warren Street. Between Warren and HoM (just below Spring Street), I counted at least a dozen bars and restaurants on the west side of King Street ALONE.
With roughly 10,000 college students to draw from (with the help of fake IDs, of course), not to mention mid-to-late 20- and 30-somethings, there’s no shortage of business and, remarkably, yet greater demand from more of the same. Things don’t really get hopping in the area until well into the evening, which I imagine suits everybody just fine. And when it starts happening, it happens big time.
During one of our very infrequent drive-abouts in the wee hours of the morning, my wife and I were astounded by the number of young people milling about. Yes — they were orderly, or at least about as orderly one could expect a crowd that size to be at such an hour, the occasional drunken shouting and expletive notwithstanding.
To tell the truth, there’s no question I’d be doing the same thing if I were that age and would have taken great indignation at the thought of anyone messing with my nightlife. In fact, I well recall 30-plus years ago a group of my own friends opening a small tavern on lower King, just above the Riviera Theatre. It was called the Rip Tide (“Rip”ped being the operative word), which enjoyed a brief and memorable run, if hampered by the nagging reality that businesses actually require management. (Another story.)
But back then it was pretty basic — not too many people, not too many bars, little to no emphasis on food (at the bars, that is) — no gravity, craft or IPA beers, fancy liquor, chi-chi décor and so forth. Just rundown, smoke-filled joints mostly serving a lot of cheap beer.
Well, nowadays, like everything else in Charleston, mid-to-upper King Street has become a huge destination, and the city has wisely recognized that the soul and DNA of the area is starting to morph into something that best stay put in New Orleans: Bourbon Street.
Another thing in our fair city that has gotten a lot of attention recently is the ongoing destruction or “demolition” by neglect of many beautiful, interesting and historic buildings on the peninsula. Although progress has been made, there’s still a long way to go. The city can require owners to stabilize buildings to keep them from falling down and perhaps posing risks to passersby, and can proactively make the fixes while putting liens on properties, if need be. But owners are not actually required to restore the buildings — just secure them — which does nothing to stem the tide of other buildings falling into similar states of disrepair.
It has been estimated that there are about 350 homes and other structures in Charleston that are at risk for demolition-by-neglect, and there’s talk of a task force that would work with City Council on ideas to keep our historic legacy structurally viable and intact.
At any rate, after driving around and spotting numerous examples, I’ve found what I consider the saddest example of this problem: A beautiful Charleston single house on the corner of Sires and Spring Streets that smacks the driver in the face while heading westbound out of town. I have no idea who owns it or what the status is, but this building has been slowly going down for years — maybe decades — and at some point it, too, may crumble away. If the house is for sale, it’s surprising no one has invested, so handsome is (or was) the property.
So handsome I used to enjoy looking at it.
Not anymore. It’s like watching something beautiful suffer a slow and painful death.
Edward M. Gilbreth is a Charleston physician. Reach him at edwardgilbreth@