Holy City Hospitality has been very busy. The company behind 39 Rue de Jean, Coast, and Virginia's on King is opening three new spots within the month. Tonight, their new Italian restaurant, Vincent Chicco's, opens to the public. Executive Chef Aaron Lemieux says the steakhouse Michael's on the Alley and Victor's Social Club will follow in a couple of weeks.
HCH is part of the Bennett Hofford (BH) family, a development and construction firm that is building a Hilton hotel next to Marion Square where the old library once stood. BH has owned the old shipping and receiving warehouse on Hutson Street since the early 90s. At one time the space held a dance club called Club Tango, but since that venue closed down it's served as storage for the neighboring restaurants.
Lemieux says they spent about a year just on the demolition, but today, the space is quite glorious with soaring ceilings, massive wooden beams, and exposed brick that's actually authentic and not a tromp l'oeil mirage.
The restaurant is named after a saloon keeper and city councilman who immigrated to Charleston from Italy after the Civil War. He ran Chicco's Cafe at 85 Market St. among other saloons and became a symbol of Charleston's pitched battle with Gov. "Pitchfork" Ben Tillman, an upstate farmer who was determined to unseat Charleston's aristocratic control of the state. He also wanted to make Charleston "dry enough to burn." Way before the federal prohibition of the 1920s, many South Carolina counties elected to go dry, but Charleston resisted and remained a very wet place. Frustrated, Tillman sought to control and shut down Charleston's wanton ways by enacting a dispensary law, which required alcohol to be sold from dispensaries run by state employees in 1891. Charlestonians rebelled and refused to follow the law, blind tigers cropped up where people could pay to see a "blind tiger" and receive a free drink, and Chicco became a symbol of their defiance when he was the first saloon keeper arrested for not following the law and selling a beer to an undercover officer. He was nicknamed the king of the blind tigers. It's an interesting story, and one that is told on the menus at Vincent Chicco's and via the historical pictures on the walls.
Of course, because he was Italian, the menu at Vincent Chicco's reads like a greatest hits of Italian-American food, with carbonara, pomodoro, ragu alla bolognese, Sicilian Sunday gravy, veal marsala, chicken parmesan, and the like. Entrees range in price from $16-$28. The pasta is made in-house, although Lemieux says they are still waiting on their extruder from Italy. While they wait for that, the noodle choices will be somewhat limited (cavatelli — yes, spaghetti — no).
They open tonight at 5 p.m. and will serve dinner nightly.