A.C.'s Bar & Grill
Downtown. 467 King St. 577-6742
Mt. Pleasant. 1035 Johnnie Dodds Blvd. 849-2267
"Being at it for years, you just get a feel for what works," says bar veteran Jim Curley, owner of the downtown A.C.'s Bar & Grill. "Our staff does a great job, and they pick the music we play, switching things around depending on the crowd."
A.C.'s is a local entity -- a smoky, rowdy King Street institution that wins big this year in three categories.
"Frankly, most of all, I'd credit the crowd more than anything for making the place more interesting," Curley says. "It's like a come-as-you-are party with the most unusual combination of people getting together and hoisting drinks. You'll see a few sorority girls over there, and a couple of plumbers in dirty coveralls over here ... a local rock star and a genuine rock star who dropped by because it's where his sound guy hangs out."
Curley first started tending bar in the early 1980s at the tiny basement bar Group Therapy (which he owned for a while) on the corner of Wentworth and St. Philip streets, and at the old Myskyn's club on Faber Street (which is now City Bar).
The original A.C.'s Bar& Grill opened in 1987 on King, two blocks south of Calhoun. It was a long, wood and brick room with a small kitchen and a few pool tables in the back. It was a popular watering hole for 13 years ... until the fire. The place was totaled on Mother's Day, 2000, after a kitchen fire went out of control. They reopened shortly after the blaze at a new location on upper King previously occupied by The Bubble Room.
"When A.C.'s first moved, things were just a little slow, but now, with the gentrification and things opening up all around us, we're almost too busy," says bartender Bentley Hibbard, a staffer of four years.
The bar's monthly cheap beer deal helped. "With the 'Beer of the Month' series, we usually try not to serve crappy cheap beer; we want it to be a good deal on something interesting," says Hibbard. "We want to feature stuff people might not have tried before, like the Peruvian Cerveza Crystal, or the German Spaten lager ... a good deal for someone who comes in with only 15 bucks in the pocket."
A.C.'s took the readers' pick for Best Downtown Bar once again this year. "It's wonderful," says Curley. "For whatever reasons, people think of this place as their bar, their home. I'm very much appreciative of it."
The A.C.'s execs opened another bar in Mt. Pleasant in June 2002. Longtime bartender and co-owner Lenny Piccirillo runs things at the busy little room off Johnnie Dodds Blvd. Both locations have their share of dedicated regulars, and both serve as a destination for late-night drinkers.
"It's always been a late-night bar," says Hibbard. "I think it's because of the atmosphere. It's a fun place to end the night, especially weekend nights. There's usually an ocean of people having fun and getting drunk."
Gobel agrees. "We keep winning 'Late Night Bar,' even though we don't stay open later than anyone else," she says. "I think we get it because A.C.'s seems to be where everyone ends up. We've always had that street cred, from the previous location and here. You know, other bars sometime close up a little early ... you'll see the staff winding things down around midnight or 1 a.m. We always stay open until 2 a.m. on the dot. It doesn't matter whether there's only two people in here or not."