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The perfect bar isn't about drinks, it's about the people

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Craig Nelson opened Proof in 2012. - JONATHAN BONCEK
  • Jonathan Boncek
  • Craig Nelson opened Proof in 2012.
I

 love bars. I love bars of all shapes and sizes. I love bars that are quiet and loud, intimate and bustling, dives and formal. There are many things to consider when pondering the idea of "The Perfect Bar." I try to think of it from the perspectives of the bartender and the guest.

Happy bartenders make happy guests. Does the bar have big fancy drink stations with rinsing sinks appropriately placed? Are there enough tools, supplies, staff, etc. to support the person making the drinks for the guest? All of these things come into play when thinking about the "perfect" spot because the layout and the support ultimately leads to the number one goal which is the guest experience.

When my former partners and I were designing Proof, I was given the opportunity (with experienced guidance) to design what I thought was that "perfect" bar. I really wanted a place where my wife and I would both want to hang out. She would want options that at the time were usually found in restaurant bars — a moderate wine by the glass list, multiple beer options, or maybe just a vodka soda (served without judgement). I wanted a place with classic cocktails, good ice, great music, and the ability to talk without the distraction of a game on the TV in the corner. We achieved much of what we set out to do but Proof isn't the perfect bar for everyone nor is it the perfect bar for all of the times.

We live in an exciting time as far as the bar industry is concerned. There are an incredible amount of options and I try to visit as many as possible. I've found that the one thing that all of my favorite bars have in common is the smile. That smile when you come in the room. No matter how busy, even if you have to wait 20 minutes, it's the smile that lets you know that you are welcomed. I have been to bars that have been awarded No. 1 in the world, best cocktail menu etc., the drinks have been perfection but if I didn't feel welcomed, those drinks just didn't taste quite right. Of course, becoming a regular at an establishment can certainly help with that smile and that whole experience. At Proof we are genuinely happy to see you, we are even more happy to see you come back. Maybe we can learn your name. Maybe you can learn ours. Let us get to know your preferences and you might find out what our specialty is.

Because the name of my "Perfect Bar" isn't The French 75 in New Orleans, nor Death & Co. or Amor y Amargo in New York City. It's not The Gin Joint, AC's, Voodoo, The Belmont, Mash, Cocktail Club, or even Proof here in Charleston. My "Perfect Bar" is Chris, Tyson, Alex, Sother, Jamie, Jim, Lenny, John, Kevin, Truman, Melissa, Brad, Hunter, Elliot, Teddy, Joy, Ryan, JoJo, Sam, Greg, Caroline, and Jimmy. And Roger most definitely Roger. Go out and meet them or find someone else to call your perfect bar. Cheers.


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