When Burwell's Stone Fire Grill announced their "Ladies Steakhouse" a month or so ago, few could resist making snarky jokes about feminized steaks, us included. After all, a quote from an early edition of the restaurant's website didn't quite hit the mark: “This steakhouse is not designed exclusively for females. Rather, it is best explained with one simple word….’Lingerie.’ Both men and women love it!”
Burwell's owners tasked themselves with "bringing the steakhouse into the 21st century" and creating the "next generation" steakhouse. "Approachable" was their word and appealing to women was their method. The press's reception of the concept was skeptical; curious, at best.
The restaurant has since downplayed the focus on the ladies, favoring instead words like "approachable" to describe everything from steaks and decor to Chef Eric Huff's take on shrimp and grits.
It's easy to make jokes about the original concept and, more seriously, to question whether stereotyping women is a wise marketing strategy. Really, Burwell's should have seen it coming, especially after the national “Bic For Her” fiasco, which ended up getting the pen company blasted for its female-specific ballpoint design with feminine colors and a smaller barrel fit for lady hands.
At the end of the day, they didn't really have to tell us they were softening the steakhouse model to appeal to chicks. After attending the restaurant's grand opening a couple weeks ago, I think it's clear Burwell's has done a fine job updating the masculine image of the traditional steakhouse. Burwell's has plenty of interesting elements that don't necessarily have to be tied to gender stereotypes.
For one, the overall atmosphere is impressive. They have created a space for socializing where people can "see and be seen" a term frequently used by co-owner Ken Emery. The open design lends itself to mingling and there are plenty of nooks for intimate dinners. Social areas include a long bar, a lounge area beside the VIP wine room, a community table, and a secluded two-top for private dining. The main dining area features curved booths that open toward other tables, allowing dinner parties to be a part of the buzz.
Textures and colors have a big-city aesthetic. Restored 1894 wood paneling rises from the first floor into the loft area, and exposed beams add a gritty charm. Sleek tables and chairs were crafted by one of the co-owner's brothers, and the lamps are made from blown glass. On an initial walk-through, Emery said the design intended to be sophisticated and electric, contrasting cool and warm colors in a muted fire-and-water motif.
A large art installment downstairs was constructed by a friend of Emery's, who borrowed the co-owner's bike to scavenge pieces of wood. Emery says this kind of "street art" is part of what makes Burwell's approachable. He notes that the goal of Burwell's is to never be more sophisticated than the guest, which means the art on the walls should be something that feels affordable to the patrons themselves.
The menu takes a seasonal approach with local seafood and contemporary American cuisine while the bar menu boasts traditional drinks from the 1800s. A 1,400-degree wood-fired grill fronts the exposed kitchen, and they'll use 700-degree stones for searing steaks tableside.
Burwell's aims to combat the male exclusivity with a design that "integrates modern stylings with traditional Charleston decor and masculine and feminine, emphasizing a welcoming atmosphere that is appealing to all." In addition, the menu is described as "offering steaks in a variety of cuts to suit men as well as the women." The line between appealing to female customers and offending them is a thin one, but overall, Burwell's seems to have gotten the message loud and clear that the idea of a ladies steakhouse is not only prone to jokes, but probably offensive to many women who feel just as capable of eating a giant T-bone as the next guy. So despite the initial blunders, Burwell's should be commended for adapting. If the restaurant continues to focus on "approachability" rather than femininity, Burwell's should very well succeed, which we're sure was the goal all along.
The restaurant is located at 14 N. Market and is open daily for dinner and late night, with happy hour every weekday from 4-7 p.m. They are hosting a preview dinner this week, so expect our food report later.