Charleston could learn a lot from downtown Greenville

A Tale of Two Entertainment Districts

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Nikki Haley is the Dabo Swinney of governors. Like the head coach of the Clemson Tigers, South Carolina's first female governor is known for her over-the-top enthusiasm. But as much as she would like it to be, every day isn't a great day in South Carolina. I can think of a few right off the top of my head that failed to warrant Haley's Pollyanna proclamation. However, sometimes she's right.

Standing before a gathering of folks at the media breakfast for the 2015 Euphoria food fest in Greenville two weeks ago, with the events two founders, pop singer-songwriter Edwin McCain and Greenville restaurant mogul Carl Sobocinski at her back, Haley said something that was so over the top, I almost forgot about the Bloody Mary bar in the corner of the room and the all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet in front of me: The governor actually said that Charleston should be worried about the food scene in Greenville.

Admittedly, Haley said all of this with tongue somewhat in cheek, but there is a small kernel of truth there. Greenville is developing into a very respectable food-centric town, thanks in part to folks like Sobocinski, who owns many of the town's best restaurants, from his flagship restaurant Soby's to the gastropub Nosedive to the Mediterranean-inspired Lazy Goat. It goes without saying that most of his enterprises are located along Main Street Greenville.

As fine as those restaurants are — I've eaten at both Soby's and the Lazy Goat numerous times — no one is going to place them in the same category as FIG or McCrady's or Edmund's Oast, although there is no doubt that they are on par with the Holy City's lesser darlings.

The Traffic Jam food truck rodeo in the middle of Greenville's downtown baseball stadium
  • The Traffic Jam food truck rodeo in the middle of Greenville's downtown baseball stadium

However, judging by the offerings at this year's Euphoria, from the daily Tasting Showcase to the live chef demonstrations, the Traffic Jam food truck rodeo on Flour Field to the mind-blowingly awesome Jazz Brunch, the celebuchef dinners to the rooftop Swanky and Sweet smorgasbord of small desserts, Greenville's culinary scene is doing plenty of things right.

But one thing in particular stood out at Euphoria and it's indicative of the one way that Greenville trumps Charleston — it's a more family-friendly festival and town.

That's not to say that children are running around at Euphoria while 492's Nate Whiting proves once again that he's the Holy City's master of the amuse-bouche — those lamb and lime lollipops were the most tastily twee bites we've ever seen — or throwing temper tantrums while Michelin-star Chef Matthew Accarrino and Charleston's Ken Vedrinski are cooking Italian at Cucina Italiana at the Loft; the latter event, for one, excluded children. It's that Greenville, by design and use, is more welcoming to families.

Chef Nate Whiting's lamb and lime lollipops
  • Chef Nate Whiting's lamb and lime lollipops


Whereas Charleston Wine + Food seemingly ropes off much of Marion Square to all but ticket holders, the central tasting and chef demonstration tents at Euphoria were divided by Main Street itself, which was not only blocked off to traffic but filled with picnic tables and featured a stage from which musicians played all day long. The general public may have been excluded from the tents and demos, but they were free to hang out in the street.

Imagine this happening in Charleston. 

And I don't mean on Lower King during Second Sunday or in Marion Square during the weekly farmers market. I'm talking about the much-loved and yet much-criticized Upper King every Friday or Saturday night, because that's what Greenville does with Main Street nearly every single weekend of the year.  

From the Fridays on Main nighttime concert series/street festival to the weekly downtown farmers market on Saturday mornings, Greenville blocks off their main thoroughfare for a family-friendly party. And make no mistake, it is a party, at least on Friday nights. 

The beer is flowing, vendors are selling food, the sidewalk cafes are packed, and the children, well, they seem to do just fine amidst all of this adult revelry. More importantly, the adults seem to do just fine as well. In fact, you could argue that the presence of children keeps the riff-raff away and the rowdiness at a minimum. 

The Bloody Marys were flowing at Euphoria's Jazz Brunch
  • The Bloody Marys were flowing at Euphoria's Jazz Brunch

It's also worth noting that on Thursday night, Greenville throws another booze- and music-fueled party at NOMA Square, the spiritual heart of Main Street, and as much as it's packed with young professionals getting their drink on, the kids are all over the place.

The same goes for the sidewalks along Main as a whole.

As late as 10 at night, you'll find toddlers, tweens, and teens hanging out along the sidewalks in the gathering spots while the bar-hopping crowd and the foodies make their way from one spot to the next. And I'm not talking about a few stragglers here or there. I'm talking about a sea of people laughing, talking, playing.

Now think about Upper King on a Friday or Saturday night. Think about the crowded sidewalks. Think about who is there and who isn't. Think about the police presence and the cigarette smoke and the drunk college students who may, before the night is over, piss in-between two parked cars and get a ticket from the police.

Lamb was the star at the Euphoria food fest
  • Lamb was the star at the Euphoria food fest

If the powers that be at Charleston City Hall really want to tame Upper King, they should do what Greenville has done — block it off and start hosting family-friendly events. In some ways, the Holy City's life depends on it.

Of course, I won't be as silly as to proclaim that Charleston is in dire straits. The night-life and dining scenes are going strong. But these areas are becoming less and less a part of a living breathing city where locals live and play and more of a place that is being turned over to revelers of various sorts, whether its Ed and Edna Fannypack from Findlay, Ohio or Bro McBrostein from the Bro Bro Bro fraternity.

As for Greenville, what you'll find today along Main Street is a living, breathing city where all are welcome and no one is afraid. It's certainly not a place that has been overtaken by tourists or the weekend wasted and likely never will be. And it's a testament to the folks at Euphoria, Downtown Alive, Fridays on Main, Taste of Greenville, the July Fourth festival, the New Year's festival, and all the other events that routinely take over Greenville's entertainment district that they have kept the party-till-you-puke crowd at bay. Charleston would be wise to do the same.




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